Notes on the Farmers Protests

January 31, 2021

January 30, 2021

(This note has been written by Kasturi and translated by the Sanhati Collective)

There are some things about Western UP that  should be said at this juncture, to see things properly in their dialectical light. And to make sure that in the haste to construct heroes, we do not forget history. 

The first image that comes to mind is from 2013, in the wake of the Muzzaffarnagar mass killings. It is the image of a hundred murdered people, mostly non-Jat Muslims. And of 80,000 Muslims in a relief camp, small farmers and farmworkers who had been displaced and rendered homeless by the riots. Riding on the back of this massacre, Narendra Modi would go on to sweep UP and come to power in 2014.

The second image is from Delhi’s Ghazipur border during the winter nights of 2021. The protests against the  BJP government’s Farm Laws have gone on for two months, under the banner of the BKU, led by Rakesh Tikait and other Hindu Jat farmers.

The Muzzaffarnagar area had never witnessed a riot before 2013. The place was called Mohabbatnagar. The BKU was unified in this region under the leadership of both Hindu and Muslim Jats. A union of primarily sugarcane farmers, the unified leadership had a history of successful struggle in the price of sugarcane. But this region also had a history of caste  oppression on Dalits and farmworkers.

In 2013, there was an assertion among Jats in the region based on their caste identity. Under the guise of “protecting the honor” of Jat women, first from Dalit and later from Muslim men, the “Love Jihad” narrative was strategically used to place political pawns in the area. The Hindu Jat lobby of the BKU  rapidly became an accessory in this strategy. After some local incident, three BJP MLAs went to the Jat Mahapanchayat and used the BKU platform to incite people against Muslims in a ploy to spark riots. Amit Shah himself is on camera, inciting this massacre. At the time, Tikait and the rest of the Jat leadership served as pawns in the BJP’s design.

Every riot has a political economy and  Muzzaffarnagar had one too. Modi and Amit Shah killed three birds with one stone that day. The first casualty was of course the Muslim small farmer and farmworker. The second was the independence of women in the region, both Hindu and Muslim. And the third was the Hindu-Muslim unity of the BKU, which was where its  strength was located.

After Muzzaffarnagar, the BKU split along religious lines. The upper castes, mill owners, corporations, companies, and the government stood to gain from this split. The losers were the farmers and the farmworkers. It is this third bird, the third casualty from the engineered riots from back then, that has today camped on the highways leading to a siege of Delhi from three sides, following the inexorable progression of history. Those who had willingly or unwillingly enlisted as footsoldiers in the riots are today facing ruin. These same people have descended on the streets in opposition to the Party of Hindutva and corporatization. 

So today when Rakesh Tikait is lionized (for his currently valourous leadership turning the tide against the RSS-BJP regime), let this bit of history coexist in the narrative. Perhaps the changes wrought by the wheels of history will carry lessons for us as well – for us, the majority, who think that the flames of caste and religion that we have used on our neighbors will provide us warmth and succor.

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The following note has been written by Nakul Singh Sawhney

I’ve read several posts on social media the last few days where people are expressing apprehensions and even anger over all the excitement around Rakesh Tikait. Most of that anger stems from BKU’s irresponsible role in the 2013 sectarian violence in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts.It’s been over seven and a half years since that madness engulfed West UP. We saw BKU split and many new factions emerged.

The noticeable split was the breaking away of Gulam Mohammad Jaula, the biggest Muslim leader of BKU and often considered the late, Baba Tikait’s right hand man.Interestingly, once Ajit Singh and Jayant Chaudhry lost their elections in 2014, many older Jats in the region were crestfallen. Many of them sobbed ‘Humne Chaudhry sahab ko kaise hara diya’. Many Jats (particularly of the older generation) were always upset with their younger generation for indulging in the violence of 2013. Secretly, between sobs they’d often say, ‘I hope it’s not too late before our youngsters realize where they’ve gone wrong’.

This is not to insinuate that elders from the community were not involved in the violence. But those who had seen the heydays of BKU and RLD, understood the futility of the madness. They understood that Muslims of the region were an inseparable part of their existence. (Within which there are contradictions of caste within Muslims in the region. But that’s another topic of discussion).

Some local level Jat leaders, like Vipin Singh Baliyan, among others put in their share of effort to undo the Hindu-Muslim rift. Such efforts, while commendable, were small and only a small drop in an ocean of hatred and bitterness that West UP had become.Around five years after the riots, there were finally joint Hindu- Muslim Kisan Panchayats, led by people like Thakur Puran Singh, Ghulam Mohammad Jaula etc.

Finally, there was a massive rally led by Rakesh Tikait, just before the 2019 elections, that came to Delhi with a set of 10 demands. Both, Hindu and Muslim farmers participated in that rally. Many other Unions extended support to the movement. Delhi was again under siege. However, even though all the demands hadn’t been met, the rally was called off. Many were upset. Many felt that he had been bought over by BJP.

After 2019 there were many protests in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts led by BKU. What was interesting was the presence of many Muslim farmers at the protest demonstrations. Many were post-holders of BKU as well. It was evident that Rakesh Tikait was trying hard to revive BKU. Naresh Tikait had evidently been sidelined.Even in 2013 Mahapanchayat, where BJP had completely hijacked the BKU stage, it was Naresh who was seen on stage with BJP leaders. He continued to make inflammatory statements even after the 2013 violence.

Over the last 2-3 years, it seems that Rakesh has taken over the reins of the Union and sidelined Naresh because of the communal politics one has begun to associate with him. Whether this is an ideological clash between the two brothers or a tactical move, only they know.Finally, once the anti-farm bills protesters reached the borders of Delhi, everyone had their eyes set on the Ghazipur border as well. Why wasn’t West UP joining the protest with the same intensity and fervour that their farm movements have been known for?

Truth be told, while many farmers were very keen to join the movement, there lay a massive trust deficit with Rakesh Tikait. Many suspected that he was a BJP agent who could flip any minute.However, the events on the 27th night at Ghazipur border have changed that perception. A large police contingent was out to remove the protesting farmers from Ghazipur border.

The very emotional appeal by Rakesh Tikait in a video message where he was crying has stirred West UP farmers in action. Among the most prominent things he said was the admission of guilt of once having supported BJP, a decision he said he will always regret. That night itself thousands of people gathered outside Tikait’s house in Sisauli village in Muzaffarnagar district.

Two days later, on 29 January, 2021 a historic Mahapanchayat took place in Sisauli village. Several thousands attended that Panchayat.Among the key speakers at the Panchayat was Ghulam Mohammad Jaula. He minced no words. ‘The two biggest mistakes you’ve made so far’, he said, ‘One, you got Ajit Singh defeated, and two, you killed Muslims’. Interestingly, there was no booing, no attempts at shutting him up. There was pin drop silence. Introspection. Other speakers said ‘We will never get carried away by BJP again’.

A very rare decision was taken at the historic Panchayat- to boycott the BJP. It is rare for mahapanchayats to publicly disown a political party.Even today as the groundswell of support from farmers keeps increasing at Ghazipur border, from districts like Baghpat, Muzaffarngar, Shamli, Meerut etc, you will hear similar views being echoed. ‘2013 was a big mistake’. ‘BJP abused our anger, and we got carried away’. ‘BJP and SP are responsible for the 2013 situation’. And most importantly, ‘BJP grew in West UP in 2013 because of the Muzaffarnagar riots, it’s downfall will also begin in the same Muzaffarnagar’.

The most prominent slogans of BKU, ‘Har Har Mahadev, Allahu Akbar’, which echoed through the boat club in 1988 may soon be back.Does this easily erase the past? Does this heal wounds of 2013? As someone who made a film on the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and having seen the trauma, destruction and polarisation they caused, I don’t have an answer. Maybe. Maybe not. That 60,000 people, essentially Muslims, who were displaced and will never go back to their native villages. Should many, who were also responsible for the violence in 2013, but today regret the past be given a clean chit? Is this genuine redressal? I don’t know.

What I do know, is that West UP has suffered enormously because of the violence of 2013. The spiralling effects have been grave. Many continue to suffer. Yogi as CM wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for 2013, and perhaps Modi as PM as well. What I do know is that the recent events at West UP will go a long way in healing and bringing back some peace in the troubled parts of West UP. Even personal relations between Hindus and Muslims will see renegotiations.

This is not to suggest that this changes everything. But each such small and big step counts for something.While many raise apprehensions about Rakesh Tikait even now, and perhaps rightly so, I also appeal to the same set to be patient in the way they approach this situation. It’s a difficult time, and such churnings are crucial. The damage that BJP has done to India will take very long to amend. Sometimes even fraught with contradictions. Impulsive reactions won’t help anyone.

Many fault lines still exist in West UP. Unlike Punjab where militant Farmers Unions have been active for many decades, Haryana and even West UP (including BKU) rely on Khaps to mobilize farmers. Feudal attitudes will take time to break down. But the Mahapanchayat on the 29th was a sure, small but significant, step towards the democratization of that society.As my friend, Amandeep Sandhu pointed out, the title ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai…’ was truly prophetic.

PS: ChalChitra Abhiyaan’s video on the Mahapanchayat should be out by today evening.

1 Comment »

One Response to “Notes on the Farmers Protests”

  1. soma roy Says:
    February 1st, 2021 at 10:46

    I have been much enlightened by the two write-ups. We hardly know anything about local politics in different states in India. We need more like these. thank you.

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