Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar on Tuesday said that the Centre cannot not run agriculture while “sitting in Delhi” since it concerned hardworking farmers in the villages, PTI reported. He added that the government “bulldozed” the three agricultural laws by not consulting the states.

Pawar told PTI in an interview that he took the opinion of state governments before initiating farm reforms during his tenure as the agriculture minister in former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet. “I and Manmohan Singh also wanted to bring some reforms in the agriculture sector but not in the same way as the current dispensation did,” Pawar said. “That time the Agriculture Ministry held long deliberations on the proposed reforms with agriculture ministers of all states and experts of the sector.”

The NCP chief added that some states expressed their reservation about the reforms, so he tried to address their concerns before moving ahead with it. “Agriculture can’t be run by sitting in Delhi as it involves hard-working farmers in villages and a bigger responsibility for this subject lies with state governments,” he said. “So, when a majority of agriculture ministers had some reservations, it was the duty of the central government and mine to take them in confidence and resolve their issues before moving ahead.”

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Follow today’s live updates on the farmers’ protest

Pawar said that in contrast, the BJP-led central government did not hold any meeting with state ministers to discuss the farm laws. He added that the Centre managed to pass the bills only because of its strength in the Parliament. “In politics and democracy, dialogue should take place,” Pawar said.

He added: “How can a government say in a democracy that it won’t listen or it won’t change its line? In a way, the government bulldozed these three bills. If the Centre had consulted state governments and taken them in confidence, then such a situation wouldn’t have arisen.”

Pawar claimed that the farmers were not a priority for the Narendra Modi-led government. “If farmers would have been the priority of the government, this problem [the protests] would not have continued for so long,” he said. “Then they say there are farmers only from Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh who are protesting. Have they not contributed to the overall food security of the country?”

The senior leader asked the Centre to take the farmers’ agitation seriously, adding that it was unfair to blame Opposition parties for the protests. Pawar also said that Opposition parties would decide on future action if the Centre failed to address the farmers’ concerns during the next round of talks on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, farmers’ unions told the Centre that their sixth meeting should focus on repealing the three agricultural laws. The government has so far failed to mollify the protestors who say the reforms threaten their livelihoods and pave the way for corporate exploitation.

Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been camping at Delhi’s borders for over a month amid the intensifying cold. Worried over farmers’ round-the-clock sit-ins, the Centre on Monday wrote to representatives of 40 farmer unions, urging them to engage with the government with an “open mind and clear conscience”.