Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday made an attempt to placate the farmers protesting against the three contentious agricultural laws, saying the government would never take “retrograde steps” that could possibly damage the rural economy and the agriculture sector.

“There is no question of taking retrograde steps against our agricultural sector ever,” Singh wrote on Twitter. “The recent reforms have been undertaken with the best interests of India’s farmers in mind.”

The government, however, was always willing to listen to the farmers, “allay their misgivings and provide them with assurances we can provide”, the defence minister added. “Our Government is always open to discussion and dialogue,” he said.

Singh’s attempts to reach out to the farming community came on the day when thousands of farmers, who have been camping in the outskirts of Delhi for 19 days, went on a day-long hunger strike to mark their discontent.

Earlier in the day, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar also reiterated that the government was ready to discuss every clause of the three contentious farm laws with the leaders of farmer unions and reach a common ground.

“We have said that we are ready for the talks,” Tomar said. “The government will definitely do it if their [farmer unions’] proposal comes. We want the discussions to be held clause by clause.”

Farmers, however, remained adamant on their demand, saying they would not accept anything but the total repeal of the legislations. Several rounds of talks have been held between the two sides, but none so far, have been able to thaw tensions between the farmers and the government.

On December 9, farmers had rejected the Centre’s written proposal on the amendments to the three laws, and intensified their protests.

The farmers fear the agricultural reforms will weaken the minimum support price mechanism under which the government buys agricultural produce, will lead to the deregulation of crop-pricing, deny them fair remuneration for their produce and leave them at the mercy of corporations.

However, internal conflicts have emerged. At least 10 organisations representing farmers’ of several states met Tomar on Monday and extended their support to the contentious farm laws. The delegation comprising farmers from Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Bihar and Haryana, were associated with the All India Kisan Coordination Committee.