In his address to the all-parties’ meeting on the eve of the first sitting of the Budget Session of Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday that the government’s offer on farm laws still stands, and that his agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar was “only a phone call away”. This is the first signal after the violence and chaos of January 26 in the national capital that the government remained open to the idea of resuming talks with the agitating farmers. The impression had formed that talks with the farmers had collapsed following the events of Republic Day.
While the prospect of talks re-starting is no bad thing, the first thing is that the perspective should be clear. Here it is necessary to understand that the “government’s offer” to keep the three controversial farm laws in abeyance is in reality a suggestion of the Supreme Court and no generosity of the government. The farmers, of course, had not accepted the idea of an 18-month reprieve since the government left no stone unturned to impress upon all concerned that it was not prepared to write the idea of the availability of MSP into law.
There is a further legal hurdle to be crossed. It appears that while a government can repeal a law passed by Parliament, it has no authority to “suspend” a law. The most it can do is to delay framing the rules for the implementation of laws. But what’s to happen after 18 months? The government’s refusal to yield on the MSP question makes the gap between the government’s stand and that of farmers unbridgeable.
Perhaps a way forward can be found through the resolution route. A suitable resolution, which reposes faith in the idea of an MSP for agriculturists, can be passed by Parliament. The wordings of this can be cleared with the farmers through discussions. Then, it should be permitted to gain the concurrence of the non-NDA parties so that it can be passed unanimously. Indeed, if other parties are brought on board and not just the government parties, the Budget Session can be conducted with mutual suspicions abating as between the government and its opponents. The farmers’ issue has brought up a wall between the government and the Opposition parties. This was on view when 20 parties boycotted the President’s Address to the joint sitting of the two Houses to inaugurate the Budget Session.
However, in order to create a congenial atmosphere for the resumption of talks with the farmers, the government must immediately drop cases lodged against the farmers’ leaders, accusing them of the Republic Day violence. These are the same individuals who had been holding talks with the farmers. How can they be invited for fresh talks with the sword of criminal cases hanging over them? Enough material is now available that indicates that the main body of farmers remained peaceful on January 26 and only a very small group of agents provocateur took the law into their own hands. There is much to be gained if the government accepts this proposition.