Over 20,000 farmers gathered today in the grounds of the Krishi Upaj Mandi in Sikar, Rajasthan, for a mahapanchayat against the farm laws enacted in mid 2020 by the Narendra Modi government. The mahapanchayat was organised by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella organisation leading the ongoing farmers protests at Delhi’s borders. Residents of more than a dozen villages around Sikar attended the meeting. Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait asked the gathered farmers to “keep their tractors and trollies ready,” as a call to move towards Delhi could come soon. Other leaders present included the activist and politician Yogendra Yadav, the farmer leader Amra Ram, the Jat leader Rajaram Meel and Yudhveer Singh. Ram is the vice-president of the All India Kisan Sabha, the peasants’ front of the Communist Party of India. Singh is the general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Tikait faction.
Earlier in the day, Tikait had addressed a similar meeting in Sardarshahar town, a few hours away. As the leadership of the farmer protests is trying to take the movement to the villages, the mahapanchayat in Sikar was one among many organised in recent weeks in Rajasthan, stretching across the agrarian strongholds of the state—Ganganagar, Hanumangarh, Nagaur, Churu, Jhunjhunu and Sikar. Several local representatives who are organising the agitation at the ground level spoke to the crowd about shutting the toll booths in their respective areas, eliciting loud cheers.
Yadav addressed the crowd about the farm laws, saying these would lead to corporate monopolies and decimate the small farmers. Virtually every speaker on the stage mentioned the Adani and Ambani groups and their closeness with the government—there were also mentions of Adani warehouses being built in Panipat and the “false promises” that came with the Jio phone. These drew strong responses from the audience. “Exactly,” one listener shouted in response to a speaker, as a dozen people sitting around him nodded in agreement.
Bajrang Lal, a 71-year-old patriarch of a family in Kailash village, said that his extended family has 25 members. Not one has a job. “Obviously they are all farmers,” he said. “Where are the jobs?” He grows wheat, chana, mustard, methi and onions on his 30 bighas of land—roughly eighteen acres. When asked what his problems with the new laws are, he said that he has too many to name. “It will turn farming into the same racket as petrol and diesel,” he said. “Corporates will buy from us at Rs 33 per kilo and sell it to everyone—including the farmers—at Rs 100 per kilo.”
Women were present in large numbers at the gathering. Vimla Devi and Mangli Devi, both women in their forties, came to the mahapanchayat from Mandeta village. They said that at least a hundred others had come from Mandeta. The two women’s houses are a kilometre apart, and both have about two to three acres of land. They too grow wheat, chana, mustard and methi. “These laws have to be taken back, unconditionally, but that’s not all,” Vimla said. Mangli added, “We want a fair MSP from the government. We are not going to be slaves to Adani.”
The mahapanchayat began at around noon and lasted for five hours. Speaking towards the end, Tikait told the crowd that the agitation against the farm laws would be a long fight. “Everyone will have to get out of their homes,” he said. Singh encouraged women to join the protests. “We can’t lock the women up in our houses,” he said. “That is half of our strength.” He told the women in the audience to visit the Tikri border, where thousands of women had been sitting in protest for months.