Home minister Amit Shah has invited a group of protesting farmers for a meeting at 7pm Tuesday, two farm union leaders who will be attending the meet have said.
The meeting, likely to take place at Shah’s residence, comes a day ahead of a crucial round of talks between farm unions and the government, the sixth time the two sides will be meeting to resolve a crisis sparked by a set of farm-reform laws approved by Parliament in September.
Tens of thousands of farmers are protesting a set of pro-market agricultural laws with a nationwide shutdown from 11am to 3pm on Tuesday. Major Opposition parties have supported their strike call. The farmers have stocked up on months of supplies, preparing to dig in for months on New Delhi’s borders.
“The home minister’s office sent a message. We will meet him. Efforts to resolve the farmers’ protests are going on. Our bandh today has been successful and peaceful,” said Rakesh Tikait, the leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Tikait faction, a farmers’ union.
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“One of the issues we will raise is the arrest of several farmers in and around Delhi, including Karol Bagh. We will urge the home minister to meet our demands on the three farm laws,” said Shiv Kumar Sharma Kakaji of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, a farmers’ organisation.
Although previous rounds of discussions led by agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar have showed no signs of ending the impasse, the home minister has been informally talking to farmers’ representatives to facilitate a solution.
The first round of talks was facilitated by several rounds of phone conversations between Shah and key farm union leaders, which took place on December 1.
Farmers want the Narendra Modi 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 to compete with a network of government-controlled agricultural markets.
The government has leaned on a reformist agenda to overhaul India’s antiquated agriculture. Deregulation of agricultural markets will pave the way for more competition and better prices, the government has claimed.
Farmers say the reforms would make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations, erode their bargaining power and stop the government’s purchase of staples at guaranteed prices.