Centre invites groups for talks, but says MSP off table; Modi to release Rs 18,000 cr for 9 cr farmers in mega event
Meanwhile, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Congress MPs staged a protest outside the party's headquarters after they were stopped from marching to Rashtrapati Bhawan, and were later detained by the Delhi Police
The Centre on Thursday extended another invite to the protesting farmers' unions for talks over the new farm laws, as the protest at Delhi's borders neared a month.
Meanwhile, the Opposition sought to further corner the Narendra Modi government over the sustained protests and reiterated the farmers' demand for the laws to be repealed. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and party MPs staged a protest outside the party's headquarters after they were stopped from marching towards Rashtrapati Bhawan, and were detained by the Delhi Police for violating prohibitory orders.
Haryana deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala also weighed in on the issue and said that the new central farm laws need "many amendments" and urged protesting farmers to give "concrete suggestions".
Addressing a press conference, he said, "I believe that many amendments should be there. On this, we have given many suggestions to the Centre earlier and they too were agreeable on many suggestions. I think the Centre is ready to incorporate those amendments."
On the other hand, in a bid to garner support for the laws, which have been opposed since they were enacted in September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to release Rs 18,000 crore as part of an 'income support scheme' to nine crore farmers. The prime minister will also interact with the participating farmers at the event.
BJP leaders, from Union ministers to its MPs, MLAs, other elected representatives, and organisational members, will fan out across the country to attend the programme and speak to farmers as well.
Meanwhile, two farmer organisations from Uttar Pradesh extended their support to the Centre's farm laws on Thursday. In a meeting with Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, the RSS-affiliated Kisan Mazdoor Sangh and Kisan Sena urged him not to repeal the Acts. However, they also demanded the strengthening of the dispute resolution system (a key demand of protesting farmers) in case of any trouble in contract farming.
In Delhi's borders, the number of protesting farmers continues to grow with more members from the farming community arriving at Delhi's Singhu and Tikri borders to lodge their unhappiness over the laws.
Sukhpal Bajwa, a farm labourer from Punjab, cycled 370 kilometres for two days to reach Delhi to support the farmers' agitation, PTI reported. "I had to reach Singhu because if the farm legislations are not repealed, I will lose my livelihood," he was quoted as saying.
Standing by his cycle, the 36-year-old from Punjab's Moga district said he could have taken a bus or a train to Delhi, but that could mean his family would have to go hungry.
"What can I do when I don't own a vehicle. I am a daily-wager and can barely make ends meet by working on a farm. Bus or train would have been expensive, I thought it is better if my family spends that money on their food," he added.
Centre invites farmers for talks but says no discussion on MSP demands
The government on Thursday extended a fresh invite to protesting farmers' unions for talks, but made it clear that it would not be "logical" to include in the agenda any new demand related to minimum support price (MSP), saying it was out of the purview of the three new farm laws.
In a three-page letter written to 40 farmer leaders, Agriculture Ministry Joint Secretary Vivek Aggarwal said, "I again request you that the government has been discussing all issues with an open heart and good intention to end the protest, and will continue to do so. Kindly suggest a date and time (for the next round of talks)."
Previous five rounds of talks between the government and the unions failed to break the deadlock with the farmers insisting on the repeal of the three laws and camping at various border points of Delhi for nearly a month now.
Aggarwal asked the union leaders to provide details of other issues they want to discuss. The talks will be held at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi at a ministerial level, he said.
On MSP, Aggarwal said the farm laws have no connection with the price regime nor would have any impact on the procurement of farm produce at the fixed rates.
This has been told to the unions in every discussion and it has also been made clear that the government is ready to give written assurance on MSP, he said.
"Any new demand related to MSP, which is out of the ambit of farm laws, is not logical to include in the talks," he noted.
Aggarwal's letter has come in response to the Samyukt Kisan Morcha's 23 December letter, through which it had informed the government that the farmers' unions are ready for talks but asked it to send a "concrete proposal in writing instead of repeating rejected proposals around meaningless amendments".
In its new letter, the government reiterated that it is ready to find a "logical solution" to the issues raised by protesting farmer unions.
In his letter, Aggarwal reiterated that the government is "eager to resolve logically" issues raised by the protesting farmer unions. The government in its 20 December letter had also mentioned that it was ready to discuss the issues raised verbally and in written form by farmer unions.
However, farmers were quoted by PTI as saying that the letter on Thursday "is nothing but a propaganda" against the farmers to create an impression that they are not interested in dialogue. They also demanded that the government must put the scrapping of the three recent farm laws in the agenda to resume the parley.
The groups said the minimum support price (MSP) cannot be separated from the demand of repealing the contentious agriculture laws, asserting that the issue of a legal guarantee for the MSP is a key part of their agitation.
The Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 farmer unions protesting at three border points of Delhi for the last 27 days, is likely to hold a meeting on Friday to discuss the Centre's letter and respond to it formally.
The government's letter comes a day after the morcha asked it not to repeat the proposal of "meaningless" amendments that they have already rejected but to come up with a "concrete offer" in writing for the resumption of talks.
"The government is not serious about our demands and they are writing letters every day. The new letter is nothing but a propaganda being created by the government against us to give an impression that we are not interested in holding talks.
"The government should bring the repeal of the three farm laws in the agenda for a fresh round of dialogue," senior morcha leader Shiv Kumar Kakka told PTI.
He said a legal guarantee of the MSP is an important part of the farmers' demands, which cannot be neglected by the government.
BJP to host farmers in 19,000 venues
BJP general secretary Arun Singh told reporters that the party has made arrangements for farmers' participation in more than 19,000 venues across the country, and the party's members will also be present.
In Uttar Pradesh alone, more than 3,000 venues have been chosen, he said.
While one crore farmers will directly participate, over five crore of them will hear Modi's speech, claimed Singh, saying the party will observe the exercise "like a festival".
Modi's allegation of Opposition lying to farmers 'baseless'
Opposition party leaders have termed the allegations made by Modi, who has accused the parties of lying to the farmers, as "baseless", stating that such accusations are a "complete travesty of truth".
In a joint statement on Thursday, Congress, NCP, DMK, PAGD, RJD, SP, CPM, CPI, CPI(ML), AIFB and RSP leaders expressed their solidarity with the protesting farmers.
"(The) PM must stop baseless accusations, repeal farm laws. We, the undersigned, register our strong protest against the baseless allegations being made by prime minister Modi, accusing the opposition parties of "repeatedly lying" to the farmers about the new farm laws and using them for their politics. The prime minister's accusations are a complete travesty of truth.
"We, the undersigned, have expressed our solidarity with the protesting farmers. The call for this ongoing historic struggle was given by more than 500 kisan organisations from all over the country under the banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM). Many of us had opposed these agri laws when they were being enacted in the Parliament without discussions or proper consideration. MPs who sought a vote were suspended," the statement said.
In an hour-long address to the farmers of Madhya Pradesh on 18 December, Modi had reiterated his government's commitment to the welfare of farmers and explained how the three farm laws against which thousands of farmers are protesting are a step towards making their lives better.
The prime minister had accused the Opposition of misleading the farmers and compared his government's agriculture report card with that of the previous government.
The Opposition's joint statement has been signed by NCP leader Sharad Pawar, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, D Raja of the CPI, Manoj Bhattacharya of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Congress' Rahul Gandhi, Farooq Abdullah of the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), Sitaram Yechury of the CPM, Debabrata Biswas of the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB), TR Baalu of the DMK, Akhilesh Yadav of SP and Dipankar Bhattacharya of the CPI(ML).
Additionally, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury met President Ram Nath Kovind over the protests on Thursday.
The Indian National Congress delegation led by Shri @RahulGandhi submitted a letter to President Kovind @rashtrapatibhvn at Rashtrapati Bhavan today requesting immediate repeal of the three farm laws. pic.twitter.com/r2rwCkhEmP
— Congress (@INCIndia) December 24, 2020
Congress MPs gathered in solidarity with our farmers at @INCIndia HQ in Delhi. Since we were not allowed by the authorities to march to @rashtrapatibhvn, we took to the streets to voice our concerns, before a Delegation of three went to meet the President. pic.twitter.com/HO1FvJRxIc
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) December 24, 2020
Thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and some other states are protesting against the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been projected by the Central Government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and do away with the mandi system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.
With inputs from PTI
Assembly Election 2021 Updates: High-decibel campaign for fourth phase in West Bengal ends; polling to be held on 10 April
Assembly Election 2021 LIVE Updates: At stake are nine assembly constituencies in Howrah, eleven in South 24 Parganas, five in Alipurduar, nine in Coochbehar and ten in Hooghly.
Was not into electoral politics before but RSS taught me to serve nation, says Bengal BJP chief
In his letter to the prime minister, the Congress leader also demanded an immediate moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine exports