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The Big Story: Policy by proxy
As 2021 gets under way, after 45 days in the cold and despite eight rounds of talks with the government, tens of thousands of farmers continue their demonstration on the borders of Delhi. The farmers are protesting three agricultural laws passed in controversial manner by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government that seek to deregulate portions of the farming sector.
While the government sold the laws as reforms that would liberate and energise Indian agriculture, the protesters saw them as a gateway to a corporate takeover of farming. The subsequent pushback led to one long-time political ally of the BJP quitting the government and prompted thousands of protesters – Mint says the number is around 200,000 – making their way to the borders of the capital.
For background on the farmer protests, read our earlier articles:
What you need to know about the chaos in the Rajya Sabha over the farm bills
Three ways to understand the massive farmer protests taking on Modi in Delhi
What unites protesting farmers and critics of RBI’s corporate banks proposal?
The protests managed to extract significant concessions from the government in the first two weeks after they began.
But the farmers have been steadfast in their demand that the laws be completely repealed. They are represented by a collection of farm leaders who managed to put aside their other disagreements and profit from a mistake – when Haryana farm leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni broke through police barricades instead of settling at the Haryana-Punjab border as planned.
The eighth round of talks, held on January 8 between the 41-member delegation of protestors and several Union ministers, was a clear indication of just how deadlocked the issue remains.
First, the ministers kept the farm leaders waiting for a half hour, as they have routinely done during negotiations. When talks began, the farmers restated their demand for a full repeal. The government refused. Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar claimed that not all farmers were against the laws – and so the ones who are protesting should stand down.
What followed was heated tempers and raised voices, and no resolution in sight. The farm leaders left, agreeing only to meet again on January 15.
Reports suggested the government did make two proposals to break the deadlock. One was to set up a small informal committee with representatives from both sides that would draw up a non-binding proposal for a way forward. The farmers had already rejected this, demanding that the laws should be repaled before any discussions on how agricultural policy should proceed.
The other was to use the Supreme Court – which is taking up the matter on Monday – as a sort of tiebreaker.
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