NEW DELHI: Farmer unions' rejection of the government's latest offer to put the three contentious agriculture laws on hold and their insistence that they will agree to nothing short of a complete repeal seems to have muddied the political waters for the BJP, but some party leaders feel their "obdurate" stand makes it clear that they may be playing in the hands of vested interests.
Several party leaders said that protesting farmers' "all-or-nothing" approach and their warning to further intensify the agitation may actually help the government in the battle of perceptions, especially when it has become clear that the Centre made a big climbdown by offering to put the laws on hold for up to two years and when the Supreme Court has also formed a panel to resolve the crisis.
A party leader said it would have been better if the farmer unions had agreed to call off their stir and allowed a normal dialogue around the three laws to progress, as continuing agitation on Delhi borders has a nationwide resonance.
Politically, there is some concern in the BJP about its poll prospects in northern states, especially Punjab, where assembly polls are scheduled for early next year.
Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand will also go to the polls with Punjab.
The recent local body poll results in Haryana saw the BJP performing below-par, an indication that its prospect was hit by these protests and its bid to tag protestors as overwhelmingly better-off Sikh farmers from Punjab was not working on the ground.
A senior BJP leader, however, asserted that if farmer unions maintained an "obdurate" position, then the message that they are playing in the hands of "vested interests" will be strengthened.
"The government has shown the maximum flexibility due to its regard for farmers' concerns. But it has made unions only more hard-headed. They have also shown a similar disregard for the Supreme Court's bid to defuse the crisis. More and more people will realise that they are interested in protests for the sake of it," he said.
When the Supreme Court had already put the implementation of the laws on hold and the government has agreed to put them on the backburner for up to two years, then what stops these unions from agreeing to end the stir and continue with talks, he asked.
After the government's talks with farmer unions hit a roadblock, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters that some "forces" definitely want protests to continue for their own personal and political motives and no resolution is possible when the sanctity of agitation is lost.
The minister said the farmer unions have been asked to revert till Saturday if they agree to the government's proposal for putting the laws on hold and forming a joint committee to reach a solution, after which the talks can continue.
On whether he saw any division among the union leaders on the government proposal, Tomar did not give a direct reply but said, "We thanked all farmer leaders, including those who support our proposal and those who are against it."
There have been reports that some unions were in support of the government's proposal, but they decided to go with the majority view to reject the offer.
Taking a hardline position, the minister said some external force was definitely trying to ensure that the agitation continues and those were obviously against the interests of farmers.
"Govt gave many proposals to end the protest, but no resolution is possible when the sanctity of an agitation is lost," he said.
Tomar said the three farm reform bills were passed in Parliament for farmers' benefit and will increase their income.
The ongoing agitation is mainly by those from Punjab and some from a few other states, he added.
Tomar said the talks between the government and farmers are continuing since October 14 and there have been 11 rounds so far, including one with officials and others with the ministers.
Unlike the last 10 rounds of talks, the 11th round could not even reach a decision on the next date for the meeting as the government also hardened its position saying it is ready to meet again only after the unions agree to discuss the suspension proposal.
This followed a big climbdown made by the Centre during the last round when they offered to suspend the laws and form a joint committee to find solutions.
Farmer leaders said they will intensify their agitation now and alleged that the government's approach was not right during the meeting.
They also said their tractor rally will go ahead as per the plans on January 26 and unions have told the police that it is the government's responsibility to maintain peace.
While the meeting lasted for almost five hours, the two sides sat face to face for less than 30 minutes.
In the very beginning, the farmer leaders informed the government that they have decided to reject the proposal made by the government in the last round of talks on Wednesday.
After internal consultations on Thursday, the farmer unions had decided to reject the offer and stick to their two major demands -- the repeal of the three laws and a legal guarantee of the minimum support price (MSP).
Some leaders expressed apprehensions that the movement will lose its momentum once the farmers go away from Delhi borders.
Harpal Singh, President of Bhartiya Kisan Union -- Asli Arajnaitik (Real Apolitical), said, "Even if we accept the government's offer, our fellow brothers sitting at Delhi borders will not accept anything other than a repeal of the laws. They will not spare us. What achievement will we show to them?" He also questioned the government's credibility, alleging it was difficult to believe that they will keep their word on putting the laws on hold for 18 months.
"We will die here but we will not return without getting the laws repealed," Singh said.
Along with Union Agriculture Minister Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash also participated in the talks with representatives of 41 farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan here.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various border points of Delhi for over a month now against the three laws.
Farmer groups have alleged these laws will end the mandi and MSP procurement systems and leave the farmers at the mercy of big corporates, even as the government has rejected these apprehensions as misplaced.
On January 11, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the three laws till further orders and appointed a four-member panel to resolve the impasse.
Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann had recused himself from the committee appointed by the apex court.
Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra) president Anil Ghanwat and agriculture economists Pramod Kumar Joshi and Ashok Gulati, the other three members on the panel, started the consultation process with stakeholders on Thursday.