Muzaffarnagar riots and legacy issues: Rakesh Tikait’s unlikely rise to farmer leadership

31 January 2021
Bhartiya Kisan Union (Arajnaitik) leader Rakesh Tikait speaks to the media as he arrives to meet with union home minister Amit Shah, in Delhi on 8 December 2020. Journalists and farmer leaders said that Rakesh’s political ambitions had stunted his influence among the farming community.
ANI
Bhartiya Kisan Union (Arajnaitik) leader Rakesh Tikait speaks to the media as he arrives to meet with union home minister Amit Shah, in Delhi on 8 December 2020. Journalists and farmer leaders said that Rakesh’s political ambitions had stunted his influence among the farming community.
ANI

With a tearful speech delivered on the live television, Rakesh Tikait overturned the fate of the farmers protest at the Ghazipur site on Delhi and Uttar Pradesh’s border. On the evening of 28 January, Rakesh, the national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Arajnaitik faction in western Uttar Pradesh, refused to vacate the farmers’ protest site at Delhi’s Ghazipur border. A few hours earlier, there had been a huge build-up of police and security forces at the site. Rakesh and other farmer leaders had been served a notice by the local administration, which directed them to clear the site. The government earlier shut off water and electricity supply to the site.

Rakesh and the members of the union, which is based primarily in western Uttar Pradesh, had been camped at Delhi’s Ghazipur border for over seven weeks, in protest again the farm laws recently enacted by the ruling BJP. He was a part of the farmers contingent that held several rounds of talks with the government regarding the protesters demands. Rakesh had also been named, along with several other farmer leaders, in a first-information report filed by the Delhi Police related to violence that unfolded during the tractor rally on 26 January.

On the evening of 28 January, mainstream channels had arrived to document what they predicted was the end of the Ghazipur protest and to speak to Rakesh, the most prominent face there. But when the police came up to the stage, Rakesh refused arrest. A short while later, in an emotional outburst, he appealed for the protest to endure and said that “the Bharatiya Janata Party’s people are conspiring to kill the farmers.” With tears streaming down his face, Rakesh said that he would rather die than end his protest. Referring to the water shutdown, he resolved to not drink water unless it was brought from his village.

His teary appeal went viral. As soon as farmers in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh learnt of it from the news and social media, people began to leave in droves for the Ghazipur site. Meetings started in the night in various villages to discuss plans of departure. Farmers from Sisauli, Tikait’s hometown, arrived that same night. In other parts of the the state, farmers with filled tractor trolleys left for Ghazipur, aiming to arrive by morning. “Rakesh Tikait’s tears have hurt the hearts of every Indian farmer ... this crowd will keep increasing,” Dal Chand, a farmer who arrived at Ghazipur that night from Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh, told The Caravan. By 4 am the next morning, thousands more had reached.

The next day, mahapanchayats—town-hall meetings—from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh started mobilising to send farmers to the site. The BKU (A) also held a mahapanchayat in its stronghold of Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, attended by thousands. Naresh Tikait, Rakesh’s elder brother and the official head of the BKU (A), gave a call for the protests to continue.

Sunil Kashyap is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: farm laws 2020 Farmers' Protest Farmers' Agitation Uttar Pradesh Police Tractor Rally Republic Day Tractor Rally 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots
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