Updated: September 6, 2021 7:09:18 am
Challenging the BJP-led NDA with just months to go for the UP elections, farm leaders driving the movement against the Centre’s new agricultural laws staged a major show of strength in Muzaffarnagar Sunday, announcing in front of thousands of farmers their plan to campaign against the ruling party in the state.
The occasion was billed as a “mahapanchayat” by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body of farmers’ unions that has been leading the movement over the last nine months, but the political significance of the event lay in the choice of the venue itself.
The western UP district, which was scarred by communal riots in 2013, had been a stronghold of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) until the rise of the BJP, which had managed to garner the support of influential Khaps including the those headed by Naresh Tikait and Rakesh Tikait, sons of iconic farmer leader, the late Mahendra Singh Tikait.
On Sunday, Rakesh Tikait, leader of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, led the charge against the BJP, drawing loud cheers. “People of UP will not tolerate (Home Minister) Amit Shah, (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi and (UP Chief Minister) Yogi Adityanath. If we have governments like this, there will be riots. This land witnessed the slogan of “Allahu Akbar, Har Har Mahadev” in the past. They talk of dividing, we speak of uniting,” he said.
Tikait accused the Centre of not reaching out to farmers since January 22, when the last round of talks was held. “They did not even express grief over the deaths of over 600 farm protesters over the last nine months. Our campaign will cover the entire country, our mission is to save the country,” he said.
Accusing the Centre of having “cheated the people”, he alleged: “They are selling our farmlands, highways, power, LIC, banks, and corporate houses like Adani and Ambani are the buyers. Even the FCI godowns and ports are being sold. Under this government, the entire country is up for sale.”
A larger message
This is a show of strength by the influential farming communities of western UP, particularly from the Jat community. With RLD and SP courting them for the 2022 polls, and given how a substantial section from this region had voted for BJP in previous elections, this muscle-flexing may demand deft political manoeuvring from the ruling party.
The three contentious farm laws pertain to the sale and purchase of farm produce outside government mandis, contract cultivation, and removing the Centre’s powers to impose stockholding limits on foodstuff.
Sunday’s gathering was attended by farmers from UP, Haryana, Rajasthan, Telangana, Karnataka, Uttarakhand and other states.
According to SKM, the mission is a sustained agitation against the Government to repeal the laws and mobilise a largescale farmer movement in the state. The Morcha had called for a Bharat Bandh on September 25. On Sunday, they announced that it has been rescheduled to September 27.
At the mahapanchayat, meanwhile, representatives of the RLD and the SP were not present on stage but both Opposition parties tried to warm up to the farmers by offering logistical support, including “langars”. The main SP office in the town doubled up as a large community kitchen.
“If the Government doesn’t understand anything apart from vote politics, we will do ‘vote par chot’ (hit the vote). We did ‘vote par chot’ in West Bengal and the results made it clear,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal Rajewal, president, BKU (Rajewal).
Gurnam Singh Chaduni, of BKU (Chaduni), said: “Today, you have shown the Government that its roots can be shaken by gathering in such numbers. The Government needs to be shaken more. Uttar Pradesh has 8 crore farmer votes. We will defeat the BJP. Get candidates from amongst you and steal the political mandate from them. There should be a Mission Punjab as well. Until the time we change policy makers, nothing will happen.”
Significantly, the Muzaffarnagar riots were referenced in almost every speech as leaders appealed to farmers to condemn communal politics. “This is the same Muzaffarnagar where rivers of blood were drawn between Hindus and Muslims. They played politics with burning houses. Someone who makes communities fight, cannot be the true son of the nation,” Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav said.
The farm leaders said meetings will be held in Lucknow next month to draw a plan for creating an SKM unit in each district. The farm leaders are also planning mahapanchayats in Haryana and Rajasthan (Jaipur) in the coming weeks.
As part of Mission UP, they said, more largescale gatherings will be held in the state in the run-up to the elections.
“We will hold meetings to plan agitations for sugarcane pricing. Farmers of Punjab are now getting Rs 360 per quintal for their sugarcane after the support of protesters. We have to ensure that farmers in UP get a higher amount than the present rate of Rs 325 per quintal. It is possible if we raise our voice for it,” said Dr Darshan Pal, Krantikari Kisan Union.
The event saw a large number of RLD supporters, with hoardings and banners of party chief Jayant Chaudhary on the ground. Party leaders claimed Chaudhary was refused permission by the administration to drop rose petals on the farmers from a helicopter.
On the stage, meanwhile, was 85-year-old leader Ghulam Mohammad Jola, who had parted ways with the BKU in 2013 after the riots and formed Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Manch. “He didn’t address the gathering as he is not keeping well,” an SKM spokesperson said.
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