New Delhi: The Union government held separate negotiations on Monday night with the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU)’s Tikait faction, which holds sway over western Uttar Pradesh, hoping to build a bridge with a farmers’ group well known to some senior government ministers.
Rakesh Tikait, the spokesperson of the BKU (Tikait faction), said his group was backing the protests by farmers from Punjab and the separate meeting was held to further explore avenues for a solution. Protests by thousands of farmers who say three recent farm-reform laws will hurt their interests simmered for the sixth straight day.
Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar and railways, food and consumer affairs ministers, along with minister of state Son Prakash, held talks with a team of leaders from the Tikait group in the agriculture ministry soon after wrapping up the main discussions, which ended inconclusively, with leaders of 35 farm organisations.
The meeting with the Tikait group followed a series of informal discussions between the Tikait group’s leaders and defence minister Rajnath Singh, a government official said, requesting anonymity.
“The defence minister has been talking to various stakeholders and farmers’ unions in the hope of finding an amicable settlement, including the Tikait group. The government believes in talking to everyone,” the official said.
“We are with the farmers of Punjab. I am hopeful about a solution, although it may take time,” Tikait said, adding: “Rajnath Singh’s family is into farming. He was a successful chief minister of our state and was sensitive to farmers’ problem.”
The Tikait group has considerable influence over sugarcane and wheat-growing belts of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, and is politically influential.
Rakesh Tikait said the meeting with the three minsters focused on the three laws, besides other key problems faced by farmers. “We have (also) demanded easier rules for farm credit under the Kisan Credit Card system and cheaper electricity,” he said.
Yudhvir Singh, the general secretary of the group, said the government’s move to impose steep fines for crop-residue burning, a major cause of pollution, was another anti-farming step that should be withdrawn.
“In the meeting, the ministers told us that we should highlight specific issues with the farm laws. Our question is how can the state-notified markets be prevented from collapsing because of the new reforms? If the government works on these lines, a solution is possible,” he said.
Farmers want the government to revoke three laws approved by Parliament in September. The laws essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old, government-controlled agricultural markets.
Farmers say the reforms would make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations, erode their bargaining power and weaken the government’s procurement system, whereby the government buys staples, such as wheat and rice, at guaranteed prices. The government has said the laws will empower and enrich farmers, freeing them from the clutches of local traders and opening up new opportunities.