Farmers' protests: Govt must promise to reconsider new laws if it wants talks, says AIKSCC member
Dr Sunilam, member of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), talked about what the farm leaders make of the government’s offer for talks
The past week has been raging with farm protests in and around Delhi. Protesting the three controversial farm bills that the Government of India pushed through in September, farmers, mainly from Haryana and Punjab, marched towards Delhi. The police fired tear gas at them, installed barricades, but eventually, the state machinery allowed them to enter the capital.
Thousands of farmers are sitting at a ground in Burari, while Union Minister for Agriculture Narendra Singh Tomar has said the government is ready to talk to the farmers. "Farmers should end the protest and come for discussion. The Government of India is fully ready for the discussion. If farmer unions send their proposal, we are ready to consider that. Farmers are our own people. The Agriculture Ministry is working for the welfare of farmers," he told PTI. He further said, "The Government of India is in continuous discussion with farmers. Therefore, we invited the farmer union leaders for the second round of talks on 3 December. If farmers wish, we are ready for discussion before that (3 December)."
Dr. Sunilam, two-term MLA from Madhya Pradesh, and a working group member of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), talked about what the farm leaders make of the government’s olive branch.
What are you hoping to get out of the meeting?
We have written a clear-cut letter. Regardless of the outcome of the discussion, the government has to acknowledge that it is open to negotiate on the three farm bills. We have always wanted to talk. We have been writing to the Central government. But for the longest time, the government did not even acknowledge us. It has agreed to talk now after the protests.
Even now, to say the farmers should end protests and then discuss is an insult to farmers. If the government honestly wants to discuss, then it should first remove the barricades, and openly say it is willing to reconsider the farm laws.
Secondly, the discussions should include farm organisations besides the ones from Punjab. The government claims it has been speaking to Punjab farmers but the farmers from Punjab are saying it is a national level issue. It is not just about Punjab. Punjab farmers are at the forefront of the agitation but the issue is national.
We have drafted the letter, and will shortly release it.
Who are involved in the decision-making process?
It is a three-tier system. Most of the farmers are from Punjab. There are 34 farm organisations from Punjab that have come together for this march. Then there is AIKSCC, which is a group of about 250 farm organisations across India. Then there is Samyukt Sangharsh Morcha, which has seven members (Balbir Singh Rajewal, Daljeet Singh Dallewala, Gurnam Singh Chudani, VM Singh, Raju Shetti, Shivkumar Sharma Kakkaji, and Yogendra Yadav). So the decision will be taken at three levels.
When you have so many organisations involved, how do you arrive at a consensus?
We have a working group. We had a meeting until 2 am last night. The organisations from Punjab had a meeting until 3 am. There was another meeting this morning. We have a system in place.
Any differences between the three tiers?
I would not want to discuss that.
What would you say about the way the state machinery responded to the protests?
The government has started these tensions. The government of Haryana stopped the farmers from Punjab. They had installed barriers at six or seven places. They compelled farmers to break down those barriers. Then at the Tikri border, they used tear gas. Medha Patkar was on her way with 400 people. They were stopped at the Uttar Pradesh border so they had to wait for two days under the open sky.
We were allowed to sit in the ground at Burari after so much struggle. The Delhi government officials ensured we get water and electricity. There have been about 500 police vehicles around us. We had asked for the Ramlila Maidan to protest.
Some sections of the society are calling farmers Khalistanis. It is an insult of the farmers. This had earlier happened to Muslims. And now it is happening with Sikhs as well. It will backfire in the long run.
Lastly, do you think the government will walk back on the farm bills?
The meeting will happen. It might even happen before 3 December. But we have made it clear that the meeting would hold meaning only if something comes out of it. And for that, the government would have to say it is willing to reconsider the three farm laws.
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