Thousands of farmers who have been protesting on the outskirts of Delhi for over a year are likely to end their agitation at noon on Thursday, as their leaders have decided to accept the Centre’s revised proposal to resolve their pending demands if it is sent in an official format.
In a major overnight concession, the Central and State Governments have agreed to withdraw almost half a lakh cases filed against protesting farmers with immediate effect.
“Samyukt Kisan Morcha confirms [that it has] received a revised draft proposal from the Government of India and that a consensus has been arrived at within SKM, accepting the proposal,” said a statement by union leaders, issued after a day of hectic negotiations both with the Centre and among the different farmer factions. “Now, a formal communication signed on the Government’s letterhead is awaited. The SKM will meet again tomorrow [Thursday] at 12 noon, at Singhu border, to take a formal decision thereafter to lift the morchas.”
Speaking to journalists after the SKM’s meeting, leaders emphasised that they were still awaiting an official letter. “This is just a draft proposal on a piece of white paper. We will wait until we get an official signed communication, on the Government letterhead. Until then, there can be no decision to disband the agitation,” said Yudhvir Singh, general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union faction under the leadership of Uttar Pradesh leader Rakesh Tikait. However, a number of leaders privately said the majority of their demands had been accepted, and they expected to head home after Thursday’s noon meeting.
The revised proposal, sent on Wednesday morning, includes two major changes to cater to the farmers’ objections to the initial draft proposal received on Tuesday.
The Centre has dropped all conditions regarding the withdrawal of cases filed against protesters and promised that cases filed in the Union Territories including Delhi will be withdrawn “with immediate effect”. The Governments of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana have also agreed to do so, and the Centre will appeal to other States to follow suit. In the initial proposal, cases were to be withdrawn only once the agitation was ended. Farmers estimate that 48,000 cases have been filed against them over the last year.
With regard to the committee announced by the Prime Minister, the revised proposal, seen by The Hindu , says it will have a specific “mandate on how to ensure that all farmers get minimum support prices”. It also assured that there will not be any reduction in the amount of crops that the Government is procuring at MSP rates. As in the initial proposal, the Centre clarified that the SKM leaders would be included among farmer representatives on the committee, but did not accede to the demand that other farm organisations should be excluded.
No changes were made to the proposal’s clauses regarding compensation for those who died during the protest, the draft Electricity Bill or the criminalisation of stubble burning. There was no mention at all of the farmers’ sixth demand for the dismissal of Minister of State for Home Ashish Mishra Teni for his alleged role in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.
Among leaders from U.P. and Maharashtra, areas where existing MSP procurement is not as strong as in Punjab and Haryana, there is a sense of resignation that their concrete demand for an MSP law has been diluted into a mere committee to discuss the issue.
“The Punjab farmers may have achieved their major goals, but for the rest of the country, their problems are not yet over. It is very clear that we will have to launch a nationwide struggle for MSP, and also for loan waivers,” said All India Kisan Sabha president Ashok Dhawale, who was part of the SKM’s five-member negotiating team.
“The Punjab farmers will also have a stake in the MSP struggle, as we are fighting for the Swaminathan Commission formula [which involves an increase in MSP] to be adopted,” he added.
Even as this agitation winds to a largely successful end, leaders emphasised that the SKM itself must not be disbanded. “The farmers of the nation have united under this banner, and that unity is our strength. The SKM is a powerful force in the country right now, and must be expanded and strengthened,” said Abhimanyu Kohar, a leader of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh. He said any decision on the SKM’s continuing role in campaigning for farmers’ interests in the upcoming U.P. and Uttarakhand elections would be taken at the leadership meeting on Wednesday.
Farmers under the SKM banner have camped out at Delhi’s borders since last November and held mass bandhs, blockades and rallies across the country, to pressure the Government into repealing the three farm laws, providing a legal guarantee on MSP, and other demands. Facing a hostile political calculus, the ruling BJP capitulated on the repeal of the three laws just before the agitation’s one year anniversary, with the PM apologising to farmers.
Over the two weeks since then, farmers have continued to jockey for their remaining demands to be granted. With the consensus around the Centre’s latest proposal, this phase of their agitation may now be over.