Farmers protesting the centre's new agricultural laws are likely to reach an understanding with the government in the next 24 to 48 hours, Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala said on Saturday in a surprising claim that coincided with demonstrators vowing to intensify their agitation.
Mr Chautala, who's Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) counts farmers as an important constituency and has faced prickly questions about his alliance with the BJP amid the mounting protests, met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar earlier in the day.
"I'm hopeful that there will be talks between the centre and the farmers will be fruitful. I'm hopeful that in the next 24 to 48 hours, there will be a final round of talks and the two sides will reach a conclusive solution," he told news agency ANI.
"It's my responsibility as a representative of farmers to secure their rights. I discussed the matter with Union Ministers, I'm hopeful that a way will be found with mutual consent and the standoff will be resolved. The centre is positive," he added.
Mr Chautala's assertion came roughly at the same when farmers' groups, after a day-long face-off with thousands of policemen on the outskirts of Delhi, promised to escalate their protest on Sunday with a blockade of the Delhi-Jaipur Highway and a hunger strike on Monday.
Repeating that they want nothing less than the three laws to go, they appeared to brush off assurances from Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the reforms in the agrarian sector to overhaul procurement and sale of produce were aimed at helping them.
"Reforms will help draw investment in agriculture and benefit farmers. The aim of all government reforms is to make farmers' prosperous," PM Modi said at the annual meeting of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi.
But the protesting farmers fear the new legislation will eventually dismantle the country's regulated markets and stop the government from buying wheat and rice at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the mercy of private buyers.
Over 30 farmer unions are actively protesting against the new laws. Talks between leaders of the farmers' unions and government officials have failed to break the deadlock with the farmers demanding the complete rollback of the reforms.