Rajat Sharma

Farmer leaders must persuade their colleagues to accept Centre’s offer

akb full_frame_74900Farmer leaders on Thursday evening rejected the Centre’s offer to put the three controversial farm laws on hold for 18 months, saying they want nothing short of a repeal of the three laws.

There was no official briefing, and only a press release was issued by Dr Darshan Pal at the end of the meeting which read: “In a full general body meeting of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha today, the proposal put forth by the Government was rejected. A full repeal of three central farm acts and enacting a legislation for remunerative MSP for all farmers were reiterated as the pending demands of the movement.”

The press release at the end of a day long meeting of all farmer leaders representing 80 farmer unions. Normally, the delegation that had been attending ten rounds of talks with the Centre consisted of leaders from 40 farmer unions. There are indications that despite the unions rejecting the Centre’s proposal, there seems to be lack of unanimity on the issue of farm laws. Old and experienced farmer leaders who had been attending the talks were of the view that the Centre’s offer to suspend the laws be accepted. They tried to convince other leaders that once the laws were suspended, it would be difficult for the government to freshly implement them again.

However, two of the top farmer leaders from Punjab, who have a large support base, insisted that nothing short of repeal of the farm laws was acceptable to them. They were of the view that the government was presently under pressure because of the plans for a tractor march on January 26, and if the leaders insisted on repeal, the government would accept their demand finally. These leaders said that once the Centre agreed for repeal of the laws, the farmers could return to their homes to tell people that they have won the battle.

Some old and experienced farmer leaders, who were veterans of several agitations in the past, pointed out that even if the Centre was now appearing soft, it could adopt a tough stance if the offer was rejected. The talks would break down and the ultimate blame would be put on farmer leaders. The farmers will then lose the sympathy that they are presently getting from the people.

The most worrying part of all is that there is a large segment among the farmer leaders which is blindly opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and this appears to be their single point agenda. These leaders have hardly any wider base and they want to reap political advantage. These leaders want the agitation to continue and are consistently telling others that once the farmers return, they would never be able to mobilize on this scale again. They are also telling others that once the farmers return, they would be facing more notices from the National Investigation Agency.

The farmer leaders continue to remain adamant on taking out a tractor rally on Delhi’s Outer Ring Road on January 26, despite rejection from Delhi Police. These leaders claim that farmers riding on tractors have already left for Delhi from Punjab, Haryana, western UP and some other states. The Centre does not want to use force to stop the farmers, and till now, the police and administration have shown utmost restraint. However, national security cannot be compromised at any cost on Republic Day, even if the farmers are unwilling to listen to reason.

My question to the farmer leaders is: farmers from eight states have come to Delhi to appear before the Supreme Court appointed experts’ committee to place their views. Are they not farmers? Should the voice of millions of farmers across India who are happy with the farm laws not be heard only because they have not resorted to agitation by blocking highways and adopting a path of confrontation? In a democracy, people have the right to let their voices be heard, the Constitution grants farmers the right to agitate, the government has listened to the views of the farmers, it is also willing to amend the farm laws, the Supreme Court showed full sympathy towards the farmers, but are the farmer unions doing the right thing in refusing to appear before the Supreme Court appointed committee or by rejecting the Centre’s offer to suspend operation of farm laws?

My view is that dialogue is the only way out to end an impasse in a democracy. The path of dialogue must not be closed. Farmer unions should reconsider the Centre’s offer to suspend operation of the farm laws for 18 months. They should persuade their colleagues who are adopting a hardline, to accept the offer and end the agitation.

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