Dilli Chalo protest | Centre invites farmers’ unions for talks

Protesters had earlier said PM must listen to our ‘mann ki baat’, and insisted on repeal of farm laws.

Updated - December 01, 2020 08:48 am IST

Published - November 30, 2020 06:04 pm IST - New Delhi

Farmers shout slogans during a protest against the central government’s recent agricultural reforms, in New Delhi on November 30, 2020.

Farmers shout slogans during a protest against the central government’s recent agricultural reforms, in New Delhi on November 30, 2020.

Farmer unions from Punjab, who have been protesting at key entry points to Delhi against the recent farm sector laws, were invited for talks with the Centre on Tuesday afternoon, the Agriculture Ministry said late on Monday. Farmer leaders said they would meet on Tuesday morning to decide their response to the invitation.

The unconditional invitation for dialogue came after a day of hard talk from farmer leaders who said it was time for the Prime Minister to listen to the “ mann ki baat ” of the farmers or pay a heavy price for not doing so. Their demand for the repeal of the Centre’s three agricultural reform laws is non-negotiable, they insisted, on the fifth day of their protest.

Also read: Dilli Chalo | Farmers’ protest enters fifth day

Restricted number

Late on Monday, the Centre responded, issuing an invitation from Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar “to all the organisations who were invited to the last meeting.” Only the 32 Punjab farmer unions had been invited to the previous meeting with the Centre on November 13. 

The meeting has been scheduled for 3 p.m. at Vigyan Bhavan in the capital. A letter from Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal has also been sent to the 32 unions.

“In view of the cold and COVID, this dialogue has been kept early, so that the members of the farmers’ organizations do not have any trouble. Earlier, this meeting was scheduled on December 3,” said the Agriculture Ministry statement.

Massive numbers

Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been gathered outside the Tikri and Singhu border crossings for five days, and a crowd is now growing at the Ghazipur border point as well. Traffic into the city has been severely affected, and farmers have threatened to blockade five border points as more protestors are mobilised.

After the farmers rejected Home Minister Amit Shah’s invitation for talks provided the protesters moved to the Burari grounds , there had been at least two meetings among senior Ministers and Cabinet officials, and several unofficial contacts between the government and the Punjab farmers’ union leaders.

Also read: Dilli Chalo protest | Burari is an open jail, say farmers rejecting Centre’s conditional invitation for talks

Mr. Shah and Mr. Tomar met BJP President J.P. Nadda late on Sunday. Mr. Tomar was seen leaving Mr. Shah’s residence again on Monday afternoon.

Speaking at a joint press conference of protest leaders at the Singhu border, Bharatiya Kisan Union-Dakaunda chief Jagmohan Singh slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attitude.

Also read: Farmers protest impact: Supply of vegetables, fruits from other states impacted

“We have been listening to him for many years; now it is time for him to listen to the mann ki baat  of the farmers,” he said, in what seemed to be a response to the PM’s Sunday address to the nation defending the agricultural reforms and claiming that farmers have been misled. Mr. Modi repeated those statements at Varanasi this afternoon during his visit to his constituency on the occasion of Dev Diwali.

Also read: Dilli Chalo protest | Not leaving border, prepared to stay for six months, say farmers

Mr. Singh accused the government of “doublespeak”, and an “authoritarian and fascist” attitude, and warned that Mr. Modi would pay a heavy price if the farmers’ demands were ignored. He urged the government to engage with the farmers on the core agenda of the three laws, and stop distracting them with other issues.

“Lies” denied

Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav sought to dismiss several “lies” being propagated by the Centre and its supporters. He denied that the protest was driven by middle-men alone, that it has political motivations, that it was restricted to Punjabis alone, or has been infiltrated by Khalistani elements.

“These are shameful lies,” said Mr. Yadav, slamming those who question the patriotism of protestors, some of whom have even lost family members in the defence of the country. He also accused the government of treating farmers with condescension, acting as though they are children who don’t understand the law or who are being misled by others.

Gurnam Singh Chadhuni, head of another faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, also denied the allegation that only Punjab’s farmers were protesting. “Every day, more people are being mobilised in Haryana. The khap panchayats in each village have been meeting and decided to send more farmers to the capital. Wait and see how many more will come to oppose the law which will only benefit corporates, not farmers,” he said.

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