New Delhi: A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi directly appealed to protesting farmers to come to the table for talks, farmer unions Saturday decided to break the ongoing deadlock and resume negotiations with the government, but with riders.
The decision was taken following a three-hour meeting called by 40 farm unions to chalk out their future course of action.
Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella organisation of over 400 farmer unions, proposed to hold talks with the Centre on 29 December at 11 am and presented their agenda.
“We are ready for talks but have written a letter with our own agenda for these talks,” Jagmohan Singh Patiala, general secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union Dakonda told ThePrint.
“Because the govt keeps talking about amendments. That’s why we have made it clear this time that we don’t want amendments, and have given agenda for talks including modalities to repeal the law,” added Balbir Singh Rajewal, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) chief.
Four riders in farmers’ agenda
In their letter, accessed by ThePrint, farmer unions have given four riders for talks.
These include modalties to repeal the three laws, ensure law on minimum support pricing (MSP), no penalty for stubble burning and amendments to the Electricity Bill 2020 to protect farmers rights.
“Since you have said that you are ready for talks, we are putting forth our demands after discussions with Sanyukt Kisan Morcha,” the letter said.
Farmer unions also asked the Centre to stop misrepresenting the farmers demands. “In the 24 December letter, the govt has once again hidden facts from the public in a bid to defame farmers. We have always maintained to the Centre that we want the three laws repealed. But the govt has distorted this and presented it in such a way that it would appear that we asked for amendments,” the letter said.
Farmers also said that if the Centre wants talks, it needs to stop misrepresenting farmers. “The govt has said that it is open to talks but if you want that, then first present all the facts and issues that we have raised instead of misrepresenting our demands and stop using state institutions to target farmers,” it also said.
PM Modi Friday had appealed to farmers to talk on facts in a virtual address to farmers across states. He said the government is open to discussions on all issues.
“Our government is willing to engage with even those who are ideologically against us, but talks must be based on issues, facts and logic,” Modi said, adding that those with a “political agenda” are not letting farmers engage in dialogue with the government to address their concerns.
“PM’s office represents the nation. When the PM lies, it hurts the image of the country. We are kisans and not politicians. We hope that PM stops lying and listens to the farmers demands … for that, we have written this letter,” Rajewal said.
Shiv Kumar Singh Kakka, national president of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdur Mahasangh, another farmers’ union, said: “We have seen many PM’s over the years. But such a speech that is so far from the truth we have never seen. PM’s speech tries to defame farmers.”
Modi also announced that the government was releasing over Rs 18,000 crore of instalments under the PM-Kisan scheme that provides Rs 6,000 per year to farmers, payable in three equal instalments of Rs 2,000 each. The fund is transferred directly to the bank accounts of beneficiaries.
What Modi govt invite said
The farmers letter is a response to the agriculture ministry’s letter to the farmers on 24 December, inviting them for talks at their own convenience but excluded the demand for a law on MSP from the agenda of talks.
“Any new demand related to MSP, which is out of the ambit of farm laws, is not logical to include in the talks. As informed earlier, the government is ready to discuss all the issues raised by farmer unions,” the letter said. The ministry also reiterated it is ready to find a “logical solution” to the issues raised by protesting farmer unions.
For their part, farmer unions Saturday reiterated that they have always been ready for talks. “We have always maintained that we are ready for talks and will continue to reiterate that,” the letter said.
Thousands of farmers have been camping at Delhi’s borders for a month now, demanding the repeal of three contentious farm laws that were passed by Parliament in September.
Farmers claimed these laws allow corporatisation of agriculture and fear it will prevent them from getting a fair price for their produce. Apart from repealing the laws, the farmers want a new law on MSP. As many as five rounds of talks have taken place so far, but have ended in stalemate with the government unwilling to repeal the laws.
PM Modi Friday defended the laws saying it opens up the market to farmers who can now sell to whoever gives them the best price.