Rakesh Tikait accuses BJP of betrayal even as government tries to reclaim protest sites; farmers to observe fast today

Published : January 30, 2021 10:15 IST

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia with BKU leader Rakesh Tikait at the Ghazipur border protest site. Photo: MOORTHY R. V.

In a modus operandi similar to that observed during the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests in Delhi, an aggressive group of people calling themselves “locals” descended on the Singhu and Tikri protest sites on the Haryana-Delhi border demanding that the protesters vacate the site. At Singhu, in the full presence of the police and paramilitary forces, an unruly mob crossed the police barricades without facing resistance, shouted incendiary slogans, hurled stones and damaged equipment that belonged to the protesting farmers. Meanwhile, on Day One of the Budget Session of Parliament, 16 opposition parties and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the erstwhile member of the National Democratic Alliance, boycotted the joint session and the President’s address to register their protest against the forcible passage of the farm laws in the Rajya Sabha.

Meanwhile at the Ghazipur protest point on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, thousands of farmers poured in from nearby districts after an emotional appeal by Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait. The appeal was issued after a huge contingent of the U.P. Police and the Rapid Action Force (RAF) threatened to evict the protesters and arrest the leaders following an eviction and arrest order issued by the district administration on January 28. The previous night, on January 27, electricity lines were cut in the protest area, plunging it into darkness. The following day, water supply was discontinued. The Ghazipur protesters had suffered a minor setback after one farmer leader, V.M. Singh, of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (RKMS) announced his withdrawal from the protest, citing as reasons the events that occurred on Republic Day. The U.P government saw in this an opportunity to crack down on the site as the crowd had thinned after thousands of farmers who had arrived for the Kisan Parade left. Taking advantage of the thin presence, some protest sites were dismantled by the police, including one in Palwal, Haryana. The Ghazipur site was next in line.

Tikait’s tears rouse farmers

Sometime around early evening on January 28, Nand Kishore, the BJP legislator from Loni Assembly constituency, accompanied by a group of people, descended on the protest site demanding that the farmers leave. This proved to be the turning point for Tikait, who until that point was willing to court arrest along with the others. He broke into tears saying the BJP had betrayed the farmers who had voted for it. “The BJP wants to kill the farmers. The protest will continue. I will hang myself if my farmers come to any harm,” he said and declared that he would not budge from the place. He said the incidents at Red Fort were a well-planned conspiracy hatched by the Central government aimed at defaming the farmers’ agitation.

His televised message went far and wide. Ajit Singh, president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, declared his support for Rakesh Tikait and instructed his supporters to reach Ghazipur. His son, Jayant Chaudhary, former Lok Sabha MP, reached Ghazipur on January 29 morning. Leaders of the SAD also told their workers to rush to Singhu and Tikri borders to support the farmers. Soon after, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia also joined in. The Delhi government provided water tankers, the supply of which had been discontinued by the U.P administration. Former U.P Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav also criticised the U.P. government for intimidating farmers. In a massive show of support, thousands of farmers attended a Mahapanchayat at Sisauli, Muzaffarnagar, hometown of the Tikait family. In less than 12 hours, the Ghazipur protest site was swarming with farmers and their tractors, reclaiming the space from the police and the paramilitary forces. In several parts of Haryana, protests were organised in support of the farmers at Ghazipur. The government retaliated by suspending Internet services in at least 17 districts.

FIRs against farmer leaders

A day after the kisan parade on January 26 that led to isolated incidents of unruliness at the Red Fort, the Delhi Police swung into action registering First Information Reports (FIRs) against as many as 25 farmers, including prominent names of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), a front representing 500 farmer and peasant organisations. Look out notices were also issued. The incident at the Red Fort became the talking point, with the government and a good section of the media keen to paint the entire movement as an indisciplined, sectarian and anarchic one. “It was a conspiracy against our movement and some farmer organisations connived to give the movement a bad name,” said farmer unions at an emergency press conference held on January 27 evening. The SKM unions, they said, had 99.9 per cent stuck to the routes decided in consultation with the Delhi Police and they declared that there were no plans to march to the Red Fort or even to Parliament. They also wondered why people were allowed access to the Red Fort ramparts.

Condemning the attacks at the Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur protest sites, the SKM stated that the BJP government was trying to give a communal color to the farmers’ protest. The Morcha declared that a fast would be observed from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on January 30, Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom day. The BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan), which has the largest mobilisation of farmer-peasants at Bahadurgarh (near Tikri) on the Haryana-Delhi border, condemned the attack by “RSS goons” . The Modi government, it said, was trying to “fail a historic movement”. Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of the union, pointed to the disciplined parade of the unions on January 26 and emphasised the need to keep intact the secular and democratic character of the struggle in order to “drive away communal elements”.

Meanwhile, at least five leading journalists were booked for sedition and under other sections of the IPC and Information Technology Act by the U.P and Madhya Pradesh police for posting and sharing tweets that suggested that the farmer from Uttarakhand who died during the kisan parade had been felled by a police bullet. Journalist organisations have condemned the move, especially as the concerned journalists deleted the posts and even apologised for it.

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