At around 8 pm on 2 December, Narendra Rana came home to find a police vehicle parked outside his house in Doghat village of western Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district. Rana is a leader of the Kisan Adhikar Andolan, a farmers’ organisation, and he had spent the day travelling the villages of Baghpat and mobilising farmers to join the ongoing farmers’ protests spread across the borders of Delhi. He is among several leaders of farmers’ organisations, from the districts of Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Moradabad and Baghpat, who have decided to lend their support to the protests against three laws that the agitating farmers have termed as “Kaale Kanoon”—black laws. “We have asked our farmer brothers and numerous organisations to reach Khekra Pathshala and we will march towards Delhi from there on 3 December,” he told me. Khekra Pathshala is a well-known landmark of Khekra, a small town in Baghpat district less than thirty kilometres from the Delhi border.
Rana said that police officials from the Doghat police station tried to convince him not to participate in the protests or ask other farmers to join in. While he was apprehensive that he might be arrested on his way to Khekra, Rana was equally vehement about lending support to the protests. “Our farmer brothers have agreed to fight this war. The farmer is preparing to fight this cheat government; he is willing to leave the harvesting of his sugarcane, the wheat sowing and even marriages to take part in the protests.” He was highly critical of the ruling party at the centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is also in power in the state, and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. “They feel that they are true patriots and everyone else is a traitor—all who talk about their rights are Khalistanis or Pakistanis or terrorists.” Rana, like several farmers protesting since 26 November, was equally scathing about the media, too. “Some media is also supporting the government in this. We farmers have understood who is talking in our support and who is manipulating and cheating us. The farmers of western Uttar Pradesh will now give answer to all of them.”
I spoke to several farmers’ leaders from western Uttar Pradesh who told me that not only were they going to march towards Delhi on 3 December but a mahapanchayat—grand council—has also been convened on the Delhi border at Ghazipur, where all organisations will discuss the strategy ahead. Apart from the Kisan Adhikar Andolan, numerous farmers’ rights organisations have decided to join the protests, including the Bharatiya Kisan Union, the Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Asli-Arajnaitik). All the leaders told me that they have been conducting meetings since 26 November and they have support from farmers across this region. They said that if the police or administration tried to stop the marching farmers from reaching Delhi, they would dig in wherever they were and protest there. The leaders also said that those who could not join the protests have been asked to start agitations in their own villages. Apart from the opposition to the recently passed legislations and the demand to rescind them, there was significant anger towards the BJP, its style of governance, the media and the attempts to discredit the farmers and their protests.
Ghulam Mohammad Jaula is an 84-year-old farmer from Muzaffarnagar. He is a leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, and has served as its national vice-president. He was an aide to Mahendra Singh Tikait, a famous farmers’ leader who once mobilised five lakh protesting farmers and led them to Delhi for a week, in 1988. Jaula was active in all of Tikait’s movements, and has also worked towards maintaining Hindu-Muslim unity in the communally volatile region of western UP. The elderly farmer is playing an active role in the ongoing farmers’ movement, too. He told me that he has been holding meetings in several villages of Muzaffarnagar and its neighbouring district of Shamli, and asking people to head to Delhi. “We will gather in thousands. If the government stops us somewhere in the middle, then we will start demonstrating from the same place.”
Jaula was extremely critical of the central government’s handling of the farmer’s concerns. “The present government wants to completely ruin the farmers and labourers. We farmers will not accept their policy in any way.” He added, “They were supposed to bring Ram Rajya”—Ram’s rule or good governance—“but this government brought Ravan Rajya. It wants us to keep fighting on either religion or caste.” Jaula told me that “this government only wants to fill the coffers of the rich; it does not care for the poor.” He added, “But they should remember whenever those in power get arrogant, they lose that power. And this government is arrogant.”