A day before the crucial seventh round of talks between the Centre and protesting farmer unions, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday and discussed the government strategy to resolve the current crisis at the earliest, sources said.
Tomar discussed with Singh 'all possible options' to find a 'middle path' to resolve the crisis, sources added.
Singh, who served as agriculture minister in the erstwhile Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet, has emerged as a key troubleshooter and is working mostly behind the scenes on this issue.
Protesting farmers who have been camping at Delhi borders for the last 39 days braving bone-chilling cold and now rains have threatened to intensify their protest if their two major demands -- repeal of the three new farm laws and legal backing for the minimum support price (MSP) -- are not accepted by the government in the January 4 meeting.
Rains since Saturday night led to waterlogging at the agitation venues, but the unions asserted that 'we will not move from here until our demands are met'.
After five rounds of inconclusive talks, the government and 40 farmer unions reached some common ground during the sixth round of negotiations on December 30 to resolve protesting farmers' concerns over rise in power tariff and penalties for stubble burning, but the two sides remained deadlocked over the main contentious issues of the repeal of the three farm laws and a legal guarantee for MSP.
On January 1, Tomar had told PTI that the government is hopeful of a 'positive outcome' at its next meeting with farmers' unions on January 4 but refrained from predicting whether the seventh round of talks will be the last one.
Asked whether he expects the January 4 meeting to be the last one, the minister said, 'I cannot say for sure now. I am not an astrologer. I am hopeful that whatever decision would be arrived at (in the meeting) will be in the interest of the country and of the farmers.' Last week, protesting farmer unions issued an 'ultimatum' that they will march into Delhi with a 'tractor parade' on the Republic Day if their demands are not met in the next round of talks.
'The farmers' movement delivered an ultimatum to the Government of India and announced that farmers will march into Delhi on January 26,' Sankyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of around 40 protesting unions, had said in a statement.
Thousands of farmers have been protesting at various borders of the national capital for more than a month demanding repeal of the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
Enacted in September 2020, the government has presented these laws as major farm reforms and aimed at increasing farmers' income, but protesting farmers have raised concerns that these legislations would weaken the MSP and mandi systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporates.
The government has maintained these apprehensions are misplaced and has ruled out repealing the laws.
While several opposition parties and people from other walks of life have come out in support of the farmers, some farmer groups have also met Agriculture Minister Tomar over the last few weeks to extend their support for the three laws.