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January 28, 2021
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Indian farmers reject new proposals, threaten country-wide protests

NEW DELHI, India: Indian farmers have vowed to expand their protests across the country, buoyed by growing support from other key groups like military veterans, increasing the pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to scrap its new farm laws.

The warning on came just hours after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government sent a written proposal to farmer unions, laying out a series of amendments including written assurances for Minimum Support Price (MSP), one of the key demands of protesting farmers.

The other assurances from the government included the scrapping of the Electricity Amendment Bill opposed by farmers and allowing them to go to court in case of disputes.

Farmers gesture as they block a national highway during a protest against farm bills passed by India’s parliament, in Shambhu in the northern state of Punjab, India, September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

India’s Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar also said in a tweet on Wednesday the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Mandis – a government-regulated agriculture market system – will not be dismantled.

But the farmers rejected the proposals outright and called them an “insult”.

“We have unanimously rejected the government’s proposal. It’s nowhere close to what we have been demanding.

This is an insult to us,” farmer leader Jagmohan Singh told Al Jazeera over the phone from the Singhu border.

“Our demand is complete revocation of the three laws. We don’t want amendments,” he said.

Farmers say the three farm laws passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which deregulate crop pricing, will hurt their livelihoods and will only benefit large corporations.

The farmer unions have called for countrywide protests on Monday and have threatened to block the New Delhi-Jaipur and New Delhi-Agra highways on Saturday.

“If the government does not accept our demands, we will intensify our protest and will block more highways leading to the capital city,” Singh added.

On Tuesday, the protesting farmers launched a nationwide general strike to demand the scrapping of the controversial farm laws.

Thousands of farmers, mostly from the state of Punjab and Haryana – known as India’s grain bowl – have blocked key highways linking New Delhi to neighbouring states for more than two weeks.

The leaders of the BJP, including Modi, have defended the laws, saying they will boost private investment in the agriculture sector and raise farm income.

Five opposition leaders belonging to different political parties met India’s President Ram Nath Kovind to discuss the issue on Wednesday.

They have lent their support to the farmers and said they told the president the laws should be revoked.

Opposition leader and former Congress President Rahul Gandhi told reporters after meeting Kovind that it had been unacceptable to pass the bills without any consultation with farmers or the opposition.

“The way these bills have been passed we see it as an insult to our farmers,” he said.

“The farmers have lost faith in the government and they believe that the government is not acting in their interests that is why [thousands] of them are on the streets.”

“We informed the president that it’s absolutely critical that these bills are taken back.”

Six rounds of talks have so far been held between the government and the farmer unions but the deadlock continues.

A group of farmers’ representatives met India’s Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday evening but that meeting also failed as the farmers stuck to their demands.

A meeting between farmer leaders and government ministers scheduled for Wednesday in New Delhi was cancelled by farmers.

A spokesperson for the BJP, Syed Zafar Islam, told Al Jazeera the talks are the only way to resolve the dispute.

“We have always worked for their welfare of the farmers and we will continue to work for their welfare,” he said.