Indian government appeals to farmers for talks as protests continue

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Tuesday appealed to farmers to hold further talks to break a nearly month-long deadlock over their demand for the repeal of agricultural reform laws, but farmers’ leaders declined to relent unless these laws are withdrawn.

Thousands of protesters have camped on the outskirts of New Delhi and blocked national highways for over three weeks to protest against new laws that the government says would increase farmers’ income through more private investments.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has urged the farmers to engage in talks to end the deadlock over the three reform laws introduced in September, but the farmers insist the laws would hit them economically while benefiting big retailers.

“We assure our farmers that we’ll listen to them with an open mind,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said on Tuesday.

The government was “open” to amend the new laws, Tomar told foreign journalists.

He, however, declined to say whether the government could consider withdrawal of these laws as demanded by protesters.

Urging India’s diaspora to help the government to convince farmers, Tomar said new policy changes would make agriculture more attractive for farmers.

Protesters have been getting support from tens of thousands of overseas Indians mainly from Punjab, who have organised demonstrations in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia in support of the protests.

Farmers’ leaders have decided to continue with protests.

“Farmers have decided they won’t go back till the government takes back all three farm laws,” said Rakesh Tikait, spokesman for Bhartiya Kisan Union, one of over 30 protesting unions.

“It will take more than a month to resolve all issues. The government will come to us,” he said.

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