From Greta Thunberg to sugarcane dues to communal harmony — a mahapanchayat in Shamli on Friday, meant to rally western UP support for the farm protests, saw speakers explain a host of issues to an estimated 10,000-strong crowd.
The mahapanchayat was held against the backdrop of a call by BKU’s Rakesh Tikait to mobilise support for the farmer agitation; a similar one was held last week in Muzaffarnagar, which too saw roughly 10,000 people in attendance. A call for another such mahapanchayat, in Amroha, has been made for Sunday.
Friday’s mahapanchayat was addressed by RLD national vice-president Jayant Chaudhary along with several local leaders. It was held in Shamli’s Bainsla, a Jat dominated region where majority of the farmers are involved in sugarcane harvesting, and took place despite authorities asking organisers not to go ahead with it.
“I welcome all the parties that have extended support. The administration was not allowing it initially, saying there is Section 144 in place, but I had to come. We have not stopped today and we will not stop tomorrow. Shamli alone has Rs 650 crore of sugarcane dues that need to be cleared. We have not been heard. Farmers have faced injustice, but we will not tolerate it anymore,” said Chaudhary.
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A theme common to both mahapanchayats in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, which saw communal violence in 2013, was an appeal to keep religious identities aside and come together as farmers.
“Chaudharys are farmers, Kashyaps are farmers, and so are Muslims. We are farmers first and only after that we can consider our religion. We are all together in this fight and we need to raise our voice against these laws,” said Amir Alam, an RLD leader from Shamli.
Similarly, Ajay Hooda, a singer from Punjab, began his address by saying: “I will not ask how many Hindu or Muslim farmers have gathered today. I will only ask how many farmers are here with us today. Unity is our strength.”
In fact, the Muzaffarnagar mahapanchayat on January 29 was the first time since the riots that a former Muslim leader of the BKU, Ghulam Mohammad Jola, was seen sharing the stage with Rakesh Tikait’s elder brother Naresh.
“So many lives were lost and so many families were displaced. When I said during my speech that Muslims were killed, there was pin drop silence… But time has passed and there is now a bigger issue at hand. All of us are farmers in the region and right now, Rakesh Tikait is leading the movement. We are moving on for the larger cause and he has full support from our community,” Jola told The Indian Express.
Jola was a close aide of Tikait’s father Mahendra Singh Tikait, hailed as one of the most important farmer leaders of his generation. Jola joined BKU in 1987 and worked closely with Tikait during important farmer agitations in the 1990s. When Mahendra Tikait paved the way for his sons into the farmer unions, Jola played a father figure role to the two.
Like several farm leaders, Jola too said he was moved by images of Rakesh Tikait in tears at Ghazipur last month. “I believe that if Mahendra Singh was alive, the riots would have never happened. He had a very different stature and image in the region. When we saw Rakesh Tikait cry, we felt something. It felt that he was living up to his father’s image since Mahendra was also someone who would do anything for the farmers,” said Jola.
While Jola had formed the Kisan Mazdoor Manch, an organisation working on farmer rights, after his split with the BKU, recent developments have led to speculation that the two outfits may join hands.
The Shamli mahapanchayat also saw Jayant Chaudhary touch on international support for the farm protest. “Greta Thunberg is a very famous activist. She was only 15 when she sat outside their Parliament. In terms of climate change, she is a very renowned person. She also expressed support for farmers. In one line, everyone went against her. In fact, Delhi Police filed an FIR against her. I ask them, how will they catch her?”.
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