Protesters burn copies of the contentious legislation during Lohri festivities.
As thousands of protesting farmers burned copies of the three contentious farm reform laws to mark the festival of Lohri, the Central government was yet to decide whether to hold its next round of negotiations with farm unions on January 15.
Farmers completed 50 days of continuous protest on the borders of Delhi on January 13. They have been demanding the repeal of the three laws, as well as a legal guarantee that all farm produce would be sold at minimum support prices. So far, eight rounds of talks have failed to resolve the crisis.
Following the Supreme Court’s order to suspend the implementation of the laws and form a committee on the same issues, the Centre held internal consultations on the way ahead. An Agriculture Ministry official said no firm decision had yet been taken. The farm unions say they have not received any notice of cancellation, and expect to turn up at Vigyan Bhavan at noon on January 15.
“There was nothing in the Supreme Court order that says that this process needs to be stopped for two months until the committee submits its report. That would be a perverse interpretation of the order,” Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav said.
The unions have refused to participate in the proceedings of the committee set up by the Supreme Court, noting that all the members of the committee have advocated for the reform laws.
One of the committee members, Pramod Kumar Joshi, said he would be able to set aside his personal views while serving on the panel. “You have to be very unbiased, keep your own views in the locker and remain open-minded. There is nothing wrong in [the fact that all members of the panel are in favour of reforms]. Judges have their own views, and they are still able to give unbiased judgments,” he said.
At its internal meeting, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha warned its own union leaders to tone down their rhetoric regarding plans for January 26. Republic Day protests are expected to take place across the country, including in Mumbai, where plans were finalised for a three-day sit-in by 50,000 farmers starting on January 23 followed by a march to the Raj Bhavan on January 26.
“We will definitely hold a parade in Delhi on Republic Day, but there is no question of any disruption of the official parade. We have strictly said there will not be any violence,” said Krantikari Kisan Union president Darshan Pal. “We will carry the national flag and the union flags. All other details will be decided after the meeting on the 15th.”
He was speaking after participating in Lohri celebrations. As farmers lit bonfires to burn the three laws as a sign of their rejection, they also sang songs of the mythical folk hero Dulla Bhatti, seen as a Punjabi Robin Hood, who championed peasant farmers against exploitative zamindars. There was also a commemoration of the 120 people who have died for various reasons during the protests so far.