The Indian government has once again reached out to the tens of thousands of protesting farmers who have been parked on the borders of the capital New Delhi for nearly a month and have the courage of a cool winter to demand the repeal of three controversial farm laws.
In a letter to farmers’ unions leading the protest, the agriculture ministry’s top official said Thursday that the government was committed to reaching a “logical solution” to the issues they have raised, urging them to hold further discussions “at a date and time” your choice ”, according to reports from Indian media.
“I would like to emphasize again that the government has spoken to you with an open mind about the issues you raise, and is ready to do so in the future. Let us know the date and time that suits you best for the next round, ”the letter said.
Three new agricultural laws were passed with little debate in September amid an opposition boycott in parliament, with India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the majority.
The government says the laws will modernize agriculture and increase farmers’ incomes.
But farmers fear that aiming to ease the rules on crop storage and marketing will benefit large companies and leave them free of the free market.
The leaders of the Farmers’ Association say the laws will lead to the completion of state-regulated purchases of crops and a system of government-mandated minimum prices for their products.
Several rounds of negotiations between leaders of the farmers’ group and the government have failed to break the stalemate.
The government has offered to change the laws, saying that the regulated purchase and support prices of crops will remain, but the protesters, largely from Punjab and Haryana, insist that the laws be repealed.
“We do not believe in government assurances, we want concrete proposals, not meaningless changes … these laws are a death knell for farmers,” said union leader Darshan Pal.
Farmers’ groups were open to further talks with the government, which should show that it had an open mind and good intentions, Pal said.
Farmers’ union leaders have also accused the government of trying to weaken them and discredit them by describing protesting farmers as “anti-citizens”.
“You are dealing with protesting farmers in a way that they are not wronged citizens but political rivals,” Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers ‘Front, a coalition of farmers’ associations, said in a letter to the ministry on Thursday.
“Farmers would be forced to intensify their agitation further for their survival if the government continued to treat them this way,” the letter said.
Protesters said they were prepared for the long haul and that new groups were coming in while some were returning home, said Ashutosh Mishra, spokesman for a farmers’ associations forum.
Farmers are parked near at least five border crossings on highways leading into New Delhi, which is now partially blocked.
They cook and eat on the roads, sleep in tractors and wagons turned into temporary shelters that track up to 10 km (6 miles) of places.
“Hundreds of volunteers, NGOs and sympathetic local people are helping keep the protest alive,” Mishra said.
Near the Singhu border, locals have opened their homes so that the women among the protesters can use the toilets.
A man in Panipat brought a tractor with cauliflower one day, a person with a dairy gives 250 liters [66 gallons] milk every day farmers go back to their villages to bring vegetables, grain. People, especially from the Sikh community, have donated blankets and tents. ”
Opposition calls for repeal of laws
Meanwhile, India’s main opposition party pressured the government to convene a special parliamentary session to withdraw the new agricultural laws.
“The Prime Minister will help two, three business people” by introducing the agricultural laws, said Rahul Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
“Farmers will not go home,” he told reporters after meeting with President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday to demand a joint parliamentary session “to discuss and repeal the laws.”
New Delhi police detained dozens of congressmen and workers as they tried to march toward the president’s residence, including Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul’s sister.
Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing 58 men and six female protesters, including several leaders, from a coronavirus virus. They were released later, police said.