With farmers’ protest, Bharatiya Kisan Union rallies its way back to the limelight
Irrespective of the outcome of the farmers’ march to Delhi, stopped at the border, analysts say the protest, involving tens of thousands of farmers, marks the return of a powerful farmers’ organisation, the Bharatiya Kisan Union, which, in the late 1980s, took over Delhi’s central boat club lawns, around India Gate, with 500,000 farmers.
The BKU won that battle -- interestingly, sugarcane was at the heart of that too -- but lost relevance in the heartland in the wave of the Mandal and Mandir (temple) politics that followed, according to analysts.
Now, the Kisan Kranti Yatra, a protest march from Haridwar in Uttarakhand to New Delhi, has infused fresh vigour in the organisation which went through a tough time after the death of its stalwart leader Mahendra Singh Tikait in 2011. Tikait Sr is widely considered the second most powerful farmers’ leader in recent Indian history, after Chaudhary Charan Singh.
After Tikait Sr’s death, the organisation weakened; his elder son Naresh took over the BKU; many associates of Tikait Sr left, refusing to work under the new leadership.
Gulam Mohammad of village Jaula, who left the organisation, recalls that the departure of several senior leaders weakened the BKU, leaving it unable to organise a big farmers’ movement for seven years. “Several leaders who left started their own farmer groups which divided the farmers of the region,” he adds.
But it wasn’t as if Tikait Jr completely lost his hold over farmers. Khap (caste) panchayats wield considerable influence in western Uttar Pradesh and many are directly associated with the BKU. Tikait Jr actually heads the Baliyan Khap of 84 villages, and has support of several other caste panchayats of the region. Locals say these panchayats helped the BKU to garner quick support for its agitations and were the strength of Tikait Sr. The son, too, seems to have benefited from that support this time.
Local farmers, protesting the non-payment of around ~12,000 crore of sugarcane dues from mills, and repeated crop failures, started the 150km yatra from Haridwar on October 1. “As the yatra progressed, farmers from different parts of western UP joined and the numbers swelled,” Naresh Tikait said on Monday.
Sanjeev Sharma, political science teacher at Chaudhary Charan Singh University in Meerut, said farmers are in distress and after a long time, the BKU has provided them a platform to raise their voice. “Today’s use of force against them has provided the organisation an opportunity to exhibit its relevance in coming days.”
Subhash Baliyan, general secretary of Sarv Khap, which is part of the BKU, said that the government would face the consequences of what happened today in the 2019 elections. “We will be old BKU again,” he warned.
Baliyan recalled how a few words of Tikait Sr to “vote in name of Ram” helped the Bharatiya Janata Party sweep western Uttar Pradesh in the 1999 polls and helped Atal Bihari Vajpayee to become the prime minister. “The assault (on farmers today) shows apathy of the government towards farmers,” said Chaudhary Rajendra Singh of Deshwal Khap, adding that the incident will only serve to strengthen the BKU.
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