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The farmers’ agitation at Delhi’s doorstep against laws enacted by the Centre hits the four-month mark on Friday. A Supreme Court-appointed committee has just submitted its report on the issue. Can the warring sides arrive at a resolution any time soon? Mint explores.

Why is a resolution proving to be elusive?

During the last round of talks held on 22 January, the federal government made it clear to farmer unions that it can only water down the reform laws by diluting some clauses and urged farmers to take up the government’s offer to suspend the laws for up to 18 months. Farmer representatives, however, rejected both the proposals and maintained that the laws will have to go, leading to a breakdown in the talks. The impasse took a bitter turn when a tractor march in the national capital on the Republic Day turned violent. The two parties have not seen eye-to-eye since.

When are the talks likely to resume?

At a political level, the BJP-led government is busy with assembly polls in five states, including a high stakes battle of the ballot in West Bengal. After the election results are announced on 2 May, it may reach out to the farmer unions again, but its tone and tenor may hinge on its performance in the elections. From mid-April onwards, farmers will also have a tough job at hand balancing the winter harvest season from mid-April till early May while maintaining their foothold at the protest sites along Delhi border. As such, the talks are unlikely to resume before May.

Ground reality
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Ground reality

What role will the apex court play in this scenario?

The Supreme Court has formed an expert committee to deliberate on the three farm laws passed in September 2020. Its final report and recommendations, despite the refusal of the protesting farmer unions to meet its members, was submitted to the court a few days ago and the hearings are likely to resume.

Will farmers step back from their demand?

This is very unlikely. The protest sites are still alive with tens of thousands of farmers. Earlier this month, the unions celebrated International Women’s Day, which saw the participation of women farmers in large numbers. When the harvest begins, the unions plan to bring in older members to the protest sites while the youth take over farm operations back home. One farm group also launched a “loot calculator", holding the government accountable on its promise to honour minimum support prices (MSP).

What did the protests achieve so far?

The longest running farmer movement in post-independent India may appear to have achieved little because of its maximalist position. However, after a long gap, farmers seem to have found their voice. The fire lit by farmers from Punjab and Haryana has spread to Rajasthan and western UP where kisan mahapanchayats have been a resounding success. The movement can potentially heal long-standing conflicts, such as the water sharing disputes between states and existing enmities between social groups.

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