On January 30 the Prime Minister Sh. Narendra Modi told floor leaders of various political parties that the union government’s offer on three farm laws made to protesting farmers still stands and it was only a phone call away for talks.
Informing about this meeting the Parliament Affairs Minister Sh. Prahlad Joshi said, “ The Prime Minister assured that the Centre is approaching the farmers issue with an open mind.”
This statement is a statement of great hope and a very noble statement, if found to be sincere. Unfortunately there have been other statements which say that the number one demand of farmers for repeal of three controversial farm laws is still not on the agenda of the government. The world has been wondering what kind of negotiations these are in which the government approaches the negotiation with its not-negotiable stand that farm laws will not be repealed, while it is always the stronger party which is supposed to be more accommodating and generous in negotiations. Where is the publicized ‘open mind’ of the government in this attitude?
A veteran leader of the BJP , a former Vice-President of India’s leading political party, Sh. Laxmi Kanta Chawla has stated (see The Indian Express, Chandigarh edition, January 25 ) that as early as mid-December he wrote to the Prime Minister that if the Agriculture Minister is not able to solve the issue, the PM should take the matter in his own hands. In addition he told the reporter, “I feel that if the PM wants , a solution can be found in a day.”
This senior, wise, veteran BJP leader gave voice to the feelings of countless ordinary people. As the acceptance of the demand of repeal of three high controversial farm laws entails no government expenditure and as their implementation for some time has already been suspended in any case, this is the easiest demand to accept, also keeping in view that not just farmers but also very eminent experts and most opposition parties including former long-term allies of the BJP have asked for repeal of these laws.
Hence while extending the offer of restarting negotiations the government should also say clearly that the repeal of the three farm laws is also on the agenda of negotiations.
The Chief Minister of Punjab Sh. Amarinder Singh has rightly stated recently, ( as reported in The Indian Express January 29 ), “ I sincerely hope and urge the Central government to continue to engage with the farmers, as they have been doing over the past several weeks. Talks and negotiations are the only way to resolve this crisis, and the only solution to the problem.”
Talks with a truly open mind are the only way forward, and it will be helpful if the PM now plays a more direct role. He has already missed numerous good occasions to respond with a kind heart to the movement, and should not delay this any longer. His office is located just an hour’s drive from various protest sites, and people are wondering why during the last two months the PM could find the time to travel to many distant places but not to the farmer protest sites which are so close to where he stays and works on permanent basis.
This state of being near and yet so far should end now, the farmers’ movement and their PM should stop being distant neighbors, they should meet, with a kind heart and open mind, the issue of repeal of laws also being wide open.
While we wait for the meeting, the PM should immediately give strict instructions immediately to his Home Minister to immediately take strong action to stop violent groups and goons from attacking the peaceful dharnas of farmers. How can the government claim that the government is only a phone call away from farmers when at the same time innocent supporters and activists of the movement are being implicated in false cases, false and harmful propaganda against them is not stopping, and when peaceful farmer dharnas are being attacked or intimidated by goons with the police and security forces looking away, or even facilitating this, as has been alleged in recent times. The PM should ensure that all hostile activities by the security agencies and the propagandists against the farmers’ movement should stop and then approach the farmers for negotiations with a truly open mind. An even better course of action to repair the damage done to his government nationally and international and to still emerge in a magnanimous light even at this late stage will be to immediately and unilaterally announce repeal of farm laws in the larger interests of Indian democracy, keeping aside all other considerations for the time being.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His journalism work for over four decades has been recognized in the form of several prestigious awards. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for present times).