Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal, negotiating with protesting farmers, has said ‘ultra-left and Maoist elements have hijacked the agitation’. Their demands, like asking for release of jailed Maoists, go beyond the farm laws, he added. In an interview to Rakesh Mohan Chaturvedi, the minister emphasised that the government is ready to hold further talks with the protestors on genuine concerns regarding the farm bills but repealing them would not be possible as a majority of farmers, who are not part of protests, benefit from these reforms.
What do you have to say about the demands of the farmers?
The leadership is now totally in the hands of the ultra-Leftists. The Maoists have hijacked the movement. They are the vocal group in the meetings and are not willing to discuss issues but are more interested in disrupting the talks. The nation has to be concerned about the antecedents of some of these farmer leaders. They have changed their list of demands now.
What are their demands other than on the farm laws?
One of their demands is to withdraw all cases against the farmer leaders, intellectuals, lawyers, writers, and human and democratic rights activists. We do not know what they mean. There is nobody of this nature who has been jailed. Who are they trying to hold the brief for? They have gone far beyond the ambit of farming in their demands and their antecedents clearly demonstrate that they have some other priorities, rather than the farmers welfare.
Have they named anybody they want released?
No, they have not named anybody.
Are you saying negotiations have not been conducted in good faith by the other side?
When we see the dominance of the Leftist elements in the negotiations and we see that no reasonable conversations are being held, except their one line demand to repeal the laws, one does get concerned about whether they are really looking at solving the problems or only creating unrest in a certain section of farmers.
There are 35 organisations which have held talks with the government. Do all of them have these leanings?
The more vocal elements seem to be the Leftists and those who have in the past demonstrated their links to Left and Maoist organisations. They are more vocal in the discussions and therefore other leaders are unable to express their opinion.
Earlier there were allegations from the government side that there are Khalistani elements among protestors and now you say Maoists are involved. Is this an attempt to discredit the movement?
No, we have never said that (Khalistani). That is an unfounded allegation. It is on record and a lot of questions are being asked about the antecedents of their leaders which connect them to Left and Maoist organisations.
If this is the context, how do you think this issue can be resolved?
Our farmers can see through the efforts to destabilise the movement and will come back to the discussions. If they have any genuine concerns, we are open to discussions. However, for all the issues that they raised in the meetings so far, we have given concrete proposals addressing all those concerns…
If the Left and Congress were so sure that only one method—that of APMC mandis—can solve all the problems, then why has Kerala not got it? If the farm laws are for their good, why are farmers supporting this protest?
Most of the farmers across the country have welcomed these reforms. The Bharat Bandh was not a success. It is unfortunate that some farmers are being misled and given wrong explanations.
You mean there is a geographical bias in the agitation?
No, it is not so. I would say it is by those farmers who have been misguided. We have given an assurance that the present system of MSP and procurement will continue. The private mandis will be taxed at the same rate as APMC. A level playing field has been brought in… All doors of justice will be open to farmers.
You say it is led by the Left, but your own ally SAD quit NDA. They are not Leftists.
They probably did not understand the laws well. They may have done so (left NDA) due to their political compulsions. You will have to ask them.
Government has said it is ready to give a written assurance on MSP. Is it open to making it a part of law?
Congress was in power for 50 years. The Left was supporting them earlier. Nobody then said it can become a part of law. The procurement going on today is under a law. We are ready to give a written assurance if they want. The Prime Minister and the agriculture minister have given an assurance in Parliament. Our bonafides are very clear on that.