The Indian government and protesting farmers were unable to break their deadlock in talks, with the farmers saying on Saturday they will intensify their demonstrations against new agriculture laws and continue blocking key highways on the outskirts of the capital.
Protest leaders rejected the government’s offer to amend some contentious provisions of the new farm laws, which deregulate crop pricing, and stuck to the demand for total repeal.
They also announced a nationwide strike for Tuesday. They said they would intensify their agitation and occupy toll plazas across the country on the strike day if the government didn’t abolish the laws.
The two sides will meet for further discussions on Wednesday.
Thousands of farmers are protesting against reforms that they say could devastate crop prices and reduce their earnings. They have blocked highways on the outskirts of Delhi for the last 10 days.
The farmers say the laws will lead the government to stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and result in exploitation by corporations that will push down prices.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government insists the reforms will benefit farmers. It says they will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. But farmers say they were never consulted.
Saturday’s talks between Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and 35 farmer leaders were the fifth since the laws were passed in September.
“We had very good discussions today and we wanted a clear solution but it was not possible,” Tomar said after almost five hours of discussions. “We will consider all the demands they have made and we will reach a solution.”
“We assured them that minimum support prices for crops will stay.”
However, the leader of a farmers’ union was quoted by the dpa news agency as saying that: “The government offered amendments to the law, but we want them repealed and, if new laws are made, they must be done with consultations with farmers’ associations.”
The farmers are camping along at least five main highways on the outskirts of the national capital territory and have said they will not leave until the government rolls back what they call the “black laws”.
Farmers in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against the laws for nearly two months. The situation escalated last week when tens of thousands marched to New Delhi and clashed with the police on the outskirts.
Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam, reporting from Delhi’s Singhu crossing, said real differences had emerged between the two sides about what to do about the laws.
“Farmers maintain that because [they think] the laws are so fundamentally flawed, because they were created without consultation with farmers and pushed through parliament without a proper vote, that nothing short of repealing the laws will do,” she said.
“And they are only expecting the protests to get bigger.”
One of the farmers told NDTV news channel on Saturday that they were prepared to carry on with the protest until January 26, India’s Republic Day, and, if needed, beyond that.
The laws add to already existing resentment from farmers, who often complain of being ignored by the government in their push for better crop prices, additional loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.
With nearly 60 percent of the Indian population depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, the growing farmer rebellion has rattled Modi’s administration and allies.
Modi and his leaders have also tried to allay farmers’ fears about the new laws while also dismissing their concerns.
Some of his party leaders have called the farmers “misguided” and “anti-national”, a label often given to those who criticise Modi or his policies.
Many opposition party leaders, activists and even some allies of Modi’s party have called the laws anti-farmer and expressed support for those protesting.