New Delhi/Chandigarh: Rejecting the Centre's offer to hold talks once they move to the Burari ground, the farmers who are protesting at Delhi's borders for four days against the new farm laws on Sunday said they will not accept any conditional dialogue and threatened to block all five entry points to the national capital.
As the standoff showed no signs of easing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi again batted for the new laws in his monthly radio address, saying these reforms have given the farmers new rights and opportunities and have started mitigating their problems in a short span of time.
The Home Ministry too assured the farmers' organisations that a high-level team of Union Ministers will talk to them once the protesters move to the designated site.
A meeting of over 30 farmer groups was held to discuss Union Minister Amit Shah's offer for talks before the scheduled date of December 3 once they move to Burari in the city, but the thousands of protesters refused to budge and prepared for spending another night in the cold at the Singhu and Tikri border points.
Their representatives said Shah's condition that they shift the protest is not acceptable and claimed Burari ground is an "open jail".
Opposition parties too pressed the government to initiate an unconditional dialogue with the farmers.
"The condition laid down by Home Minister Amit Shah is not acceptable to us. We will not hold any conditional talks. We reject the government's offer. The blockade will not end. We will block all five entry point to Delhi," Surjeet S Phul, Bhartiya Kisan Union's Punjab president, told reporters.
"The condition put for talks is an insult to farmers. We will never go to Burari. It is not a park but an open jail," he added.
Gurnam Singh Chadhoni, Haryana unit president for the Bhartiya Kisan Union, said they were ready to talk "but will not accept any condition now".
Farmers who had reached Nirankarai Samagam Ground in Burari on Saturday also continued their protest there.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla in a letter to 32 farmers organisations sent on Saturday cited the cold conditions and the COVID-19 outbreak and said the farmers should move to the Burari ground where adequate facilities have been made for them.
"As soon as you shift to the ground at Burari, the very next day a high-level committee of union ministers will hold talks at Vigyan Bhavan with the representatives of all farmers unions, with whom dialogue had taken place earlier, he said in the letter.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah had on Saturday said that a delegation of the farmers has been invited for a discussion on December 3 but as some of their unions have demanded that talks should be held immediately, the central government is ready to do so as soon as the protesters shift to the ground in Burari.
The central government has reached out to the farmers underscoring its willingness to hold talks with them. It has also asserted that concerns expressed by some farm bodies about the new laws are misplaced, asserting that existing support measures like the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and state-run 'mandis' will remain in place.
In his monthly 'Mann Ki Baat' broadcast, Prime Minister Modi said "correct information, away from rumours and confusion of any kind" is a big strength for people in any field, as he spoke about a couple of farmers involved with innovative practices in the field.
"The demands, which were made by farmers for years and regarding which every political party at some point of time had made promises, have been fulfilled... These reforms have not only freed them of various shackles but also given them new rights and new opportunities. These rights have begun mitigating farmers' problems in a very short span of time," he said on the new farm laws.
Farmer leaders, however, claimed that more protesters will join them from Haryana and Punjab.
Several Khaps or caste councils from Haryana have extended support to the farmers' ongoing protest and will march towards the national capital, Independent MLA from Haryana's Dadri constituency Sombir Sangwan, who also heads the 'Sangwan Khap', told PTI over phone.
Raising slogans against the government, the farmers staged protests amid heavy police presence on the Delhi borders. The Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) provided food to the agitating farmers.
A war of words has also broken out between Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar over the movement of protesting farmers to Delhi.
Singh and his Congress party have supported the farmers' agitation and criticised the Khattar government which had tried to stop the protesters from crossing the BJP-ruled Haryana to enter Delhi.
Khattar said on Sunday he would hold Amarinder Singh responsible if farmers' gathering on the state's borders with Delhi leads to an aggravation of the COVID-19 situation in the state.
He alleged that it was programme sponsored by the Congress and the Punjab government.
The Congress, which has been targeting the government over the farm laws issue, said the insistence on support to the legislations shows that the government is "drunk with power".
"Those who are still defending the black farm laws, what solution will they find in favour of farmers?" party leader Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet in Hindi, adding that, "Ab hogi (now there will be) #KisaanKiBaat".
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked the Centre to immediately and unconditionally hold talks with the farmers.
BJP's former ally Shiv Sena said farmers protesting against the Centre's new farm laws are being treated as if they are "terrorists", and it is sad that they are not being allowed to enter Delhi.
The government should consider the farmers' demands sympathetically, Sena MP Sanjay Raut said.
The protesting farmers have come prepared for a long haul, their vehicles loaded with rations, utensils, quilts and blankets for the cold and equipped with even charging points for their phones.
"In any situation, we will not call off the protest till our demands are met," Brij Singh, one of the farmers at Singhu border, said.
Gaurav Sharma, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Outer North), said they are allowing vehicles carrying food and other necessities for farmers to pass.
"Burari DDA ground has already been designated as the protest site and when they want to move, we will be facilitating their movement," he said.
On Friday, police used teargas shells, water cannons and multi-layer barriers to block the protesters. Some protesters pelted stones and broke barricades.
No untoward incident was reported on Saturday and Sunday.
Under the laws enacted in September that Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a watershed for agriculture, farmers are free to sell their produce anywhere, including to big corporate buyers, instead of at government-regulated wholesale markets where farmers are assured of a minimum procurement price.
Many farmer organisations oppose the new law, saying it would leave small growers with little bargaining power. They also say they fear the government will eventually withdraw price support for wheat and rice. The government says there is no plan to eliminate the wholesale markets.
(With inputs from PTI & Reuters)