Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday said protesting farmers must distance themselves from those latching onto them for “political resurgence”. In an interview to News18, Sitharaman lashed out at the opposition and said farmers are being used for political gains.
“The opposition is playing politics over farmer’s stir. The agitation has been hijacked by anti-national forces,” she said.
Farmer leaders on protest for 17 days at Delhi borders have rejected the government’s proposal to amend three controversial farm laws, and announced that they would intensify their agitation if the legislations are not repealed. Farmer unions have threatened to block the Jaipur-Delhi and the Delhi-Agra expressways, and said they will escalate the protest to a nationwide agitation on December 14.
Farmers have been demonstrating since late last month over reforms enacted in September that loosened rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce that had protected farmers from an unfettered free market for decades.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured the farmers on Saturday that reforms in the agrarian sector were aimed at helping them and help draw investment in agriculture. But farmers fear the new legislation will eventually dismantle the regulated markets and stop the government from buying their produce at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the mercy of private buyers.
Talks between leaders of the farmers’ unions and agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar have failed to break the deadlock with the farmers demanding the complete rollback of the reforms. The sixth meeting between the two sides was scheduled to be held on Wednesday but was cancelled.
Speaking to News18, Sitharaman said the government has always been ready for further dialogue but voiced fears that issues pertaining to agriculture have been relegated to the background in the ongoing protests.
“Issues related to agriculture and farmers are not being voiced in protests now. There are demands to release anti-national elements. Disgruntled elements are engaged in hijacking the farmers’ protests,” she said.
On the farmers’ demand to roll back the laws, the finance minister said, “Negotiations are a time-consuming process. I am not concerned about the time taken. Union ministers Narendra Tomar and Piyush Goyal are there to resolve the issues of farmers through dialogue. Rolling back is not for larger good.”
“We have not stopped talking to them and they are welcome to come and talk to us as farmers. Issues have been raised which are not part of agriculture concerns. … My request to farmers is to sit with ministers for dialogue and resolve the issues.”
Lashing out at the opposition Congress, Sitharaman said, “The Congress did not fulfil their promise to give loan waivers to farmers. They are not to be trusted. Congress hypocrisy has been exposed.”
Sitharaman also reiterated the government’s farmer welfare schemes and said the Modi dispensation is pro-farmers. “There has been record MSP under the leadership of PM Modi. Huge procurement has been done by Centre. Maximum procurements are happening now. PM Modi is committed to double farmer’s income,” she added.
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