Q1. What has gone wrong in the talks with the farmers?
We did five rounds of talks in great detail. Talks were held in a good atmosphere. During the talks on December 3, we asked them what all they wanted. We said we were ready to make amendments on all the points they raised – including registration for private mandis, same taxes on them as APMC (Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee) mandis, option to take disputes to court and ensure their land won’t be taken over.
We asked if they wanted anything else – they raised the issue of provisions of electricity bill and stubble burning. We agreed to change that also. Each demand of theirs was agreed to. The farmers were happy and exited the Vigyan Bhawan building along with us. They said they would get back after discussions with others on December 5. We thought the agitation would be over on December 5.
But we don’t know what happened in the interim, what pressure was exerted on them, that they came on December 5 and said no, we won’t agree to anything less than repeal of the laws. In the December 3 meeting, one of them had even said they understood that the government would not repeal the laws. Another leader then said leave the three bills, just talk about MSP (minimum support price). But their tone completely changed in the December 5 meeting with a U-turn.
Q2. Farmers want a legal assurance on MSP. Why can’t that be given?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said MSP will continue as earlier. We are ready to give a written assurance. There is no Act earlier too on MSP. But under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), it is a requirement of the law that the government shall procure foodgrains for Public Distribution System (PDS). It is not “may procure” but “shall procure” and we are hence bound to do so. MSP is mentioned and defined under this Act as the assured price announced by the Centre at which foodgrains will be procured from farmers. So the guarantee is already there in NFSA to implement PDS.
Q3. Are political parties fanning the protests given 2022 Punjab polls?
The Congress supported these laws in their manifesto. Either they should say their manifesto was wrong or stop this bankruptcy of policy now. The (Shiromani) Akali Dal supported the ordinances but suddenly turned against the laws. Our much-respected Parkash Singh Badal spoke for two months in favour of the ordinances. They had a political compulsion. Political parties should have a standard and stick to it. All parties want to come to power but it should not at the cost of the peace of the state and peace of the country and putting people in difficulty in such cold. They are responsible for the plight of farmers to achieve their political ends. Any wrong element can enter such large agitations; farmer groups are also worried about this.
Q4. What lies ahead now? How will the deadlock be broken?
It was unfortunate that the farmers rejected our proposal. Still, the government is ready for talks as soon as possible. I am from Punjab and Punjab’s psyche is such that if people get after an issue, they do so very strongly. They should not speak of repeal but about their demands. I hope better sense will prevail upon all leaders. We are ready to resolve all their valid concerns. Ultimately, they have to come to the table. We appeal to them to return to talks. They are our anndaata (food providers) and it our duty to serve them.