A day after protesting farmer unions proposed December 29 for the next round of talks but put forth several conditions for the agenda, Union Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary expressed the hope that a solution will be reached in the meeting, even as several BJP leaders decried alleged attempts to politicise the farmer issues.
However, farmer leader and CPI(M) politburo member Hannan Mollah said there has been no response to their proposal for talks and dismissed claims that the Left parties were behind the agitation.
"The government till now said that we did not want a meeting, now that we have specifically told them when, where and what of the meeting, there is no response from them. Now, it is for the people to decide who are liars. We acknowledge that there cannot be a resolution without a dialogue with the government," the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) general secretary said.
Mollah said the farmer unions have proposed four specific talking points for the December 29 meeting -- the government stating the procedure for repealing three farm laws, procedure to make minimum support price (MSP) for crops a legal right, release of Punjab farmers arrested in pollution-related cases, and repeal of the Electricity Amendment Bill.
The government had earlier objected to the raising of issues not related to the three farm laws.
"While there is no response from the government, they are busy pushing an agenda on the movement which was never ours to start with. Out of the 500 organisations which are part of the farmer struggle, around 10-11 would be Left-leaning. They want the people to believe that crores of people are responding to the call of the Left parties? If this were true, then we would have a revolution," the 76-year-old leader said.
There has been no breakthrough after five rounds of talks between the Centre and the farmer unions, which rejected a government proposal to amend the laws and provide a written assurance on the MSP issue.
AAP supremo and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal visited the protest site at Singhu border for the second time and appealed to the Centre to scrap the contentious laws, but the BJP said he can fix a date and place of his choice where the benefits of the legislation could be explained to him.
Security remained tight at the Delhi borders with hundreds of personnel deployed at Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri where the farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh, have been camping since the last week of November.
Protesters clanged plates and other utensils at the sit-in sites and in some areas in Punjab and Haryana during Prime Minister Narendra Modi''s ''Mann ki baat'' monthly radio address following a call by agitating unions.
Sources claimed that more than 176 mobile signal transmitting sites have been vandalised in the last 24 hours in Punjab by protesters despite Chief Minister Amarinder Singh''s appeal not to damage telecom infrastructure.
While firms belonging to billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani do not procure foodgrains from farmers, the narrative that new farm laws are to benefit them has made them easy targets, with protesting farmers in different places in Punjab having vandalised and damaged Reliance Jio towers, snapping connectivity, they said.
A lawyer from Punjab allegedly committed suicide by consuming poison on Sunday a few kilometres from the site of a farmers'' protest at Tikri border and police are trying to verify a purported suicide note in which he said he was sacrificing his life in support of the farmers'' agitation.
Amarjit Singh from Jalalabad in Punjab''s Fazilka district was taken to the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS) in Rohtak where doctors declared him dead on arrival, police said. Earlier, at least two suicides have been linked to the farmers'' stir.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday said attempts to "mislead" farmers on recent agriculture laws will not succeed.
Addressing a function in Shimla, the BJP leader said the new laws will raise the income of farmers, but the Congress is misleading them.
Whenever a reform is introduced, it takes a few years before it starts showing positive results, Singh said in his virtual address.
Be it the 1991 economic reforms brought in by then finance minister Manmohan Singh or the ones introduced by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, it took four-five years to see the positive results, he added.
"Similarly, if we cannot wait for four-five years, we can at least wait for two years to witness the positive results of the agriculture reforms being carried out by the Narendra Modi government," Singh said.
BJP president J P Nadda shared an old video of Rahul Gandhi''s speech in Lok Sabha in which he seems to be advocating the need for farmers to get rid of middlemen and sell their produce directly to industry, as he accused the Congress leader of playing politics over the ongoing farmers'' protest
"What is this magic happening Rahul ji. You are opposing now what you had advocated earlier. You have nothing to do with the country''s or farmers'' interests. You have to play politics only. But this is your bad luck that your hypocrisy will not work. People of the country and farmers have recognised your double standards," Nadda tweeted in Hindi along with the video clip.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh hit out at the BJP, saying it should stop maligning farmers and their genuine fight for justice by using offensive terms like “urban Naxals, Khalistanis, hooligans”.
“If the BJP cannot distinguish between anguished citizens fighting for their survival and terrorists, militants and hooligans, it should give up all pretense of being a people''s party,” the chief minister said in a statement.
Two Congress MPs from Punjab said the Centre should withdraw the recent stubble burning ordinance and the Electricity Amendment Bill before its next round of talks with protesting farmer unions so that the dialogue to end the stalemate over three agri-marketing laws can progress smoothly.
The government must earn the trust of the protesting farmers, said parliamentarians Ravneet Singh Bittu and Jasbir Singh Gill who have been staging a sit-in at Jantar Mantar here for three weeks now in solidarity with the ongoing agitation.
Chief Minister Kejriwal, who had first visited Singhu on the Delhi-Haryana border on December 7, said the farmers are protesting for their survival.
"I challenge any Union minister to have an open debate with the farmers and it will be clear how beneficial or harmful these laws are," said Kejriwal who was accompanied by his deputy Manish Sisodia.
"Farmers are protesting for their survival. These laws will snatch away their land. I appeal with folded hands to the Centre to please repeal the three agri laws," he said.
BJP leaders Adesh Gupta and Manoj Tiwari, however, claimed that Kejriwal ignored Tiwari''s Saturday''s invite to his residence on Mother Teresa Crescent Road to clear his "doubts" on the laws.
Tiwari said he was waiting for the chief minister at his residence at 3 pm on Sunday and asked the AAP chief to fix a date and venue of his choice where the "benefits" of the laws could be explained to him.
Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee targeted Union Minister Amit Shah, who recently visited West Bengal, citing the farmers'' stir.
"What about visiting the agitating farmers on the Delhi-Haryana border? Why doesn''t he go there to have lunch? Because he doesn''t have that courage," he said.
The Delhi Traffic Police alerted commuters about the routes that remained closed owing to the agitation.
“The Chilla & Gazipur borders are closed for traffic coming from Noida & Gaziabad to Delhi because of farmer protests. People are advised to take an alternate route for coming to Delhi via Anand Vihar, DND, Apsara, Bhopra & Loni borders.
“Singhu, Auchandi, Piau Maniyari, Saboli & Mangesh borders closed. Please take alternate routes via Lampur Safiabad, Palla & Singhu school toll tax borders. Traffic has been diverted from Mukarba & GTK road. Please avoid Outer Ring Rd, GTK road & NH 44,” it tweeted.
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 middleman and allow farmers to sell their produce 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 MSP and do away with the mandi system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.
The government has repeatedly asserted that the MSP and mandi systems will stay and has accused the Opposition of misleading the farmers. PTI TEAM ASG NIT UZM DJI KR SKC CHS ANZ VSD RT