Farmers Protest: Talks today, Narendra Singh Tomar meets sect head, farm unions say no link

A DAY before the eighth round of talks with farmer organisations to interrupt the deadlock over the new agricultural laws, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Thursday met religionist Baba Lakha Singh, one among the heads of the Nanaksar Sikh sect based in Punjab. While Baba Lakha Singh, who has been organising langar at the protest sites, said he wished to mediate between the govt and therefore the protesting farmers, Tomar played down the meeting and therefore the farm unions said the religionist wasn’t speaking for them.

Friday’s talks are going to be between a ministerial committee including Tomar, Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Som Prakash, and 41 representatives of farm organisations. The Agriculture Ministry officials Thursday held informal internal talks to organize for the meeting. Sources said before the talks within the afternoon, the ministers may turn Home Minister Amit Shah.

With the govt insisting that there was no doubt of agreeing to the farmers’ demand of repeal of the laws, Minister of State, Agriculture, Kailash Choudhary said more reforms were planned for the agriculture sector, and these could also face protests. “The farm unions are agitating under the influence of arhatiyas (commission agents). this is often the start . Going forward, the pesticide Bill (Pesticides Management Bill, 2020) and seed Bill also will come. At that point too, they (farmers) are often misguided… So, this is often the start of transformation for farmers,” he said.

Farmers on a tractor raise slogans during their ongoing protest against farm reform laws at Singhu Border, in New Delhi . (PTI Photo)
Baba Lakha Singh said he had told the farmer unions about his meeting with Tomar, and asked them to urge back if that they had any message for the govt . On what Tomar told him, he said, “It wouldn’t be knowing discuss anything publicly it might dilute the aim .”

Asked how the meeting had happen , he said it had been not important if he was invited or met Tomar on own. “What is vital that i would like this matter resolved. i would like to figure as a mediator between the govt and farmers. I had an honest meeting with Tomar,” Baba Lakha Singh said.

The religionist had extended support to the farmer agitation much before they took their protest to the Delhi borders. He also claims to possess known the religionist of the Nanaksar sect who killed himself on December 17 near Kundli, leaving a suicide note saying he was pained over the suffering of the protesters.

Tomar said that they had not given the religionist any proposal. “The government has said that if there’s any proposal aside from repeal, it can discuss that.” Asked if he will meet other religious leaders from Punjab to mediate with the protesting farmers, the minister said, “I will meet everyone — be they farmers or leaders.”

Tomar also claimed to possess known Baba Lakha Singh from before. “I wont to ask him… But today he came to satisfy me in Delhi, so it became news.”

Jagmohan Singh Patiala of the BKU (Dakunda) said he was in-tuned with the 13-14 prominent unions and therefore the ir leaders and had talked to the Krantikari Kisan Union and the BKU (Rajjewal). “We haven’t heard from Baba Lakha Singh. There are 31 unions and that i don’t know if he has spoken to at least one or two unions. Be he hasn’t spoken to the prominent 13-14 unions. Also no union has informed about any proposal from Lakha Singh in any of our WhatsApp groups.”

Jagmohan Singh added that a mediator could do little. “We want the laws repealed. What can a mediator neutralize this situation? If we return to Punjab without repeal of the laws, we might be just like the living dead.”

Baba Lakha Singh, who has his dera in Ludhiana district, is related to the Sant Samaj, which held influence during the Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab. He was among the invitees for the Ayodhya Ram temple Bhoomi Pujan.

Heidi Phillips