The Nationalist Congress Party on Monday issued clarifications on letters sent by party chief Sharad Pawar to former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit in 2010 and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in 2011, suggesting amendments to the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act, PTI reported.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has attacked the Opposition parties for protesting against the new farm laws, terming their stance “double standards”. The saffron party said that Pawar, when he was the former Union agriculture minister in the United Progressive Alliance government, had sought to invite private players into the agriculture sector. Letters of Pawar’s support to private sector entry into agriculture surfaced on social media as the NCP firmly opposed the farm laws.

As part of the new farm laws, the Centre removed the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee, or the APMC, and invited companies for setting up private markets. The new laws allow farmers to sell their produce directly in the market set up by private companies and individuals. In September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that the removal of APMC has helped farmers in Maharashtra.

Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, NCP spokesperson and Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik said Pawar, when he held the farm sector portfolio, took decisions with consensus and never imposed them on states. “The people in the BJP feel that farmers somewhere can trouble the government...Hence, some random papers are being circulated to confuse the people,” Malik added.

Earlier in the day, NCP spokesperson Mahesh Tapase said that the model Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act, 2003, introduced by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was not favored by many states at that point of time. But after assuming charge as the Union agriculture minister in 2004, Pawar tried to form a broader consensus among state agriculture marketing boards by inviting suggestions on the Act, Tapase said.

“The benefit of farmers as per the model APMC Act was explained [by Pawar] to various state governments and many state governments came forward to implement it,” Tapase added. “Farmers across the country are benefitting from the implementation of the Act which was fine tuned by Pawar to protect farmers’ interests.”

The party said the legislation brought by the current dispensation has raised several doubts and insecurity in the minds of farmers, including on the minimum support price mechanism. The Centre has failed to address these matters, it said, adding that the Narendra Modi-led government has failed to satisfy the legitimate apprehensions among the cultivators and Opposition.

In his letter to Dixit, the then chief minister of Delhi, Pawar had said that the agriculture sector needs well-functioning markets to drive growth, employment and economic prosperity in the rural areas of the country.

“This requires huge investments in marketing infrastructure including cold-chain,” he wrote. “And for this, private sector participation is essential, for which an appropriate regulatory and policy environment needs to be in place.”

Similarly, the NCP chief had written to Singh, the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister. He argued for investments in post-harvest and marketing infrastructure from the farm gate to the consumer. “Private sector needs to play an important role in this regard,” Pawar had said.

He had called for investments in the APMC Act to “encourage private sector investments in marketing infrastructure and providing alternate competing marketing channels in the overall interests of the farmers, consumers and agricultural trade”.

Before reports surfaced about his support for private sector entry into agriculture, Pawar had asked the Centre to take serious cognisance of the farmers’ protest and warned that the agitation will spread from Delhi to across the country if the deadlock continued.

BJP hits out at Pawar, Opposition

BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Monday criticised Pawar for his comments on the APMC when he was the agriculture minister. He cited an interview, where the NCP chief said that the Centre would not give financial support to the states if they do not amend the APMC Act and allow entry of private players into the farm sector.

“You have suggested more changes than Narendra Modi did and now you are opposing them,” he said. He also hit out at the Opposition, including the Congress, saying that they have “shameful dual characters”.

“Today, when their [the political parties] political existence is ending, they join any opposing movement to save themselves,” Prasad said. “The farmers have clearly asked political parties to stay away from the protests and the Centre respects the statement. But all of them are jumping in just because they have one more chance to oppose the BJP and Narendra Modi.”

Farm law protests

Farmers, mainly from Haryana and Punjab, are protesting the laws at Delhi’s borders for the past 12 days. They fear the new policies could pave the way for the government to stop buying grains at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the mercy of big corporations.

Opposition parties had on Sunday expressed solidarity with the protesting farmers and said they would support the call for a countrywide shutdown, or “Bharat Bandh” on December 8. Political parties that have extended their support to the agitation include – the Aam Aadmi Party, the Congress and Left outfits – Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Revolutionary Socialist Party and All India Forward Bloc. Telangana Rashtra Samithi also announced that it would actively participate in the shutdown to ensure it is successful.

The Centre, which claims the laws would revitalise India’s agrarian economy by boosting produce, has made several attempts to placate the farmers. But five rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse so far. The agitation continued and another round of negotiations is scheduled for December 9.