Ever since his emotional outburst on January 28, RAKESH TIKAIT, spokesperson for the Bharatiya Kisan Union, has become the rallying point for protesting farmers at Ghazipur— the subject of endless selfies as he walks around surrounded by a cloud of supporters. Ahead of Saturday’s nationwide chakka jam called by farm unions, Tikait, who is joined by BALBIR SINGH RAJEWAL, BKU (Rajewal) president, speaks to JIGNASA SINHA and UMA VISHNU on why UP farmers won’t be part of the jam and claims the “movement” is still strong. Excerpts:
What is the plan for the nationwide chakka jam tomorrow?
Tikait: There will be a chakka jam in other states from 12 to 3 pm. In UP, we have called off the jam and will only submit a memorandum with our demands—repeal of the three laws, guarantee on MSP and payment of pending dues to sugarcane farmers. We will not march towards Delhi. In every district, farmers will submit a memorandum, which will be addressed to the PM and given to the District Commissioner.
Why was the chakka jam called off in UP? Does it have to do with the Republic Day violence?
Tikait: No, this is the sugarcane harvest season for farmers in UP and Uttarakhand; they need to be in their fields. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have enough time for their harvest season, so there will be chakka jams in Punjab and Haryana. In UP, our tractors are ready. There are thousands of farmers who are ready to march to Delhi because they are angry with the laws. But we don’t want farmers to stop work and disturb local residents here. So we have put them on standby.
Do you anticipate resistance from police tomorrow?
Tikait: No, we are not marching towards Delhi-NCR. This is only a three-hour jam. We have already spoken to police. It is going to be peaceful. We will allow ambulances, school buses and other essential services to pass.
But farmers are holding mahapanchayats and are ready to come here. What have you been telling them?
Tikait: I have been trying to stop them. I know the movement will be stronger with their presence at Delhi’s borders but then who will work in the fields? Also, we will have to make more arrangements here (if they come here). The farmers anyway come and go in batches, shifts. The movement is still strong.
How has the agitation changed since January 26? Did the events of that day lift pressure off the government somewhat?
Tikait: No, in fact, the pressure is higher…
Rajewal: The government has been exposed and their involvement in the violence has also come out.
Tikait: Farmers are agitated and want to join the protest and come to Delhi. But we have been requesting them to go back to their villages and work and keep an eye on the protest here. We are planning to stay here at least till October 2. The Kisan Kranti movement started last year on the same date. If the government does not listen to us, we will celebrate Gandhi Jayanti here.
How do you think this standoff can be resolved?
Tikait: We don’t know what they want. Our farmers’ committee is in talks with them. Till date, they have been delaying the process to repeal the laws and are diverting attention towards other issues. If the government promises something, our committee will decide accordingly.
Farmers from UP joined the movement late… Also, the protest has so far been limited to a few states.
Tikait: No, we didn’t join late. There were protests happening at the district headquarters. We organised meetings, protests and finally a 1,000-tractor march. We have gained momentum now. Farmers are with us. This protest is not limited to Punjab or Haryana.
One of the accusations is that this is an assembly of big/rich farmers.
Rajewal: Eighty-six per cent of farmers in India own less than a hectare. Where are the big farmers? These are unverified statements from the government to discredit our movement. (Ex-Punjab CM) Parkash Singh Badal and (Punjab CM) Amarinder Singh aren’t here. This is a movement led by small farmers.
The Delhi Police had put up multi-level barricades…
Tikait: They can put nails on the ground; we will put soil over it and grow flowers. We aren’t scared of the barricading or high security. We don’t think police will seal the area. If they do, there are protesters here who can break through all the barricades.
The farmers’ protest is now being spoken about outside the country too.
Rajewal: This shows our government is doing the wrong thing. They have called us terrorists and Khalistanis. But we never spoke on those issues.
Tikait: The government wants to promote trade and favours conglomerates over us. But they are failing. We are happy and thankful that people support us.
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