Tikait’s appeal triggers show of strength in Muzaffarnagar
Farmers said they left their villages in the middle of the night after calls for mobilisation given from temples, mosques and panchayats.
Tens of thousands of farmers poured into the Government Inter College (GIC) grounds in western Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar town on Friday, a show of strength after government crackdown on protests against three agriculture laws forced farm leader Rakesh Tikait to issue an emotional appeal for support.
Farmers said they left their villages in the middle of the night after calls for mobilisation given from temples, mosques and panchayats. Viral videos of Tikait breaking down late in the face of police ultimatum on Thursday and vowing to not vacate Ghazipur protest site, on the eastern fringe of Delhi, cemented their conviction.
“The ongoing movement is a battle for the honour of farmers and, if it ends, it will damage our very existence,” said Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) chief Naresh Tikait after the seven-hour meeting, calling on farmers to strengthen the movement at Delhi’s borders.
Naresh Tikait said that defeating Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Ajit Singh in the 2019 Lok Sabha election by supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was a mistake. “We will not commit this mistake again...,” he added, with Singh’s son Jayant Chaudhary next to him.
Jayant lashed out at central and state governments. Holding a pot of water from the Ganga, Jayant asked the crowd to swear that anyone who didn’t support the farmers stir would be socially boycotted. He then dropped a fistful of salt in the pot, a local oath-taking tradition, to seal the promise. “It is a matter of life and death for farmers, but do not worry. All have to stay together, united in this -- this is Chaudhary sahab’s (Ajit Singh’s) message,” he said.
The mobilisation began late night on Thursday. The Ghaziabad administration had given him an ultimatum to vacate the site, as part of a wider crackdown on the two-month-old protests in the aftermath of violence in Delhi on Republic Day.
“Tears of the son of Chaudhary Mahendra Singh Tikait and my younger brother Rakesh Tikait will not go waste,” Naresh Tikait tweeted soon after, referring to their father, a legendary farm leader who held Delhi hostage in 1988 over demands such as free power and water for cultivators.
By morning, farmers from Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Saharanpur, Meerut, Baghpat, Bijnor and other districts of western UP had taken tractors, cars, scooters and trucks to come to the GIC grounds, which can hold up to 100,000 people.
When the mahapanchayat began, the venue was packed with people, many of whom were defiant in front of the heavy police presence. “Thousands of people arrived for the mahapanchayat and it was self-driven,” said Anuj Baliyan, a resident of Soram village. “I have not seen such a self-driven and motivated crowed in my life. Roads of Muzaffarnagar were jammed with tractors and the entire ground was packed with people,” he added.
Emotions ran high at the meeting as people recalled Rakesh Tikait’s vow to not touch water until the farm laws were rescinded by the government.
Vice president of BKU (Bhanu) Chaudhary Diwakar Singh said he defied his leader Bhànu Pratap’s decision to withdraw from the movement. “Rakesh Tikait’s tears have turned it into a complete farmers’ movement.”