Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will lead talks with farmers who have been called today by the government in an attempt to find a resolution to the massive protests near Delhi against new farm laws. Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar, though not chief negotiator, will be present during the discussions.
Sources say in talks with farmers, the government is likely to reassert that the three laws at the core of the protests will not be taken back. However, the government will reassure farmers on Minimum Support Price (MSP) and government markets or mandis. Thousands of farmers across India fear that the laws enacted in September, aimed at bringing reforms to the agriculture sector by allowing farmers to sell anywhere in the country, will deprive them of guaranteed minimum prices. They also worry that government markets or mandis will be scrapped, taking away their assured earning.
The fears are unfounded, the farmers will be reassured at every level, according to the sources.
Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled states are likely to be called upon to bolster the government's assertions by explaining how the reforms have worked on the ground.
Given that the chief demand of the farmers - cancelling the new laws - will not be granted, the talks are likely to continue, say sources, and for that, the government may offer a committee to take the negotiations forward.
On Monday, several union ministers and BJP leaders urged farmers to drop "misconceptions" about the farmer laws, asserting that they had nothing to do with the mechanism of MSP and ''mandis'', which would continue, along with the government's purchase of grains.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on a visit to his Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, underlined the message and accused the opposition of misleading farmers.
"The farmers are being deceived on these historic agriculture reform laws by the same people who have misled them for decades," he said, in an apparent reference to parties that are supporting the protest. He reiterated that farmers who wanted to follow the old system of trading - referring to the 'mandis'' where they can get the MSP - are still free to do so. But the three laws gave them new options to sell for more, he said.
"I want to say this from the banks of Mother Ganga - we are not working with the intention of deceiving. Our intentions are as holy as the water of river Ganga...If someone thinks that the earlier system is better, how is this law stopping anyone, bhai?" PM Modi said.
Several opposition parties have come out in support of the farmers.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said: "Annadata (farmers) are on the streets and lies are being spread on TV."
The government says the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and bring in new technologies in agriculture.
In a series of tweets in Hindi, BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: "The new agri laws do not end APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) mandis. Mandis will continue to operate as they have been. New laws have given farmers the freedom to sell their produce anywhere. Whoever gives farmers the best price will get to buy their produce be it inside the mandis or outside," he said.