In the death of Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Mahendra Singh Tikait an (eventful) era in the farmers' politics in the sugarcane-rich region of western Uttar Pradesh has come to an end. An apolitical person till the end, Mr. Tikait, who died at his residence in Sisauli village in Muzaffarnagar district on Sunday, was at the vanguard of many farmers agitations in Uttar Pradesh as well as in the national capital. Though he always fought for the farmers' rights, Mr. Tikait was often criticised by his opponents for propagating the cause of the “kulaks” (rich farmers). His decline in the late nineties and the beginning of the present century was marked by divisions in the BKU.
Since Mr. Tikait and his struggle for the farmers' cause coincided with the period when the farmers' politics in the region was on the wane following the demise of the former Prime Minister, Chaudhary Charan Singh, he was often described as the “real legatee” of the late farmers' leader. Such was the BKU leader's clout that he was sought to be wooed by almost all the political parties starting from the Janata Dal, the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and even the Bahujan Samaj Party prior to the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
The BKU leader rose to prominence in 1986 when he led a long-drawn-out dharna by the farmers at Shamli power house in Muzaffarnagar against the hike in power rates by the Congress government headed by Bir Bahadur Singh. The former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, who had mastered the technique of tiring out the agitationists and opponents, met his match in Mr. Tikait. The power rates were reviewed and it was only after they were lowered that the dharna was called off.
A couple of years later, the BKU leader again led a dharna by farmers, this time in protest against the rape and murder of a Muslim girl in Bhopa tehsil of Muzaffarnagar district. Demanding justice for the slain girl's family members, the farmers' dharna beside a canal on the Muzaffarnagar-Bhopa road lasted for about 40 days, although the girl's killers were never arrested.
However, Tikait's struggle for the farmers' cause suffered a setback in 1989 when six Dalits were allegedly killed by Jats belonging to the splinter group of BKU, led by his opponent Chaudhary Harpal Singh in Bhopa.
But he re-emerged in the State Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in December 1989 that led to the formation of the Janata Dal governments headed by V.P. Singh government at the Centre and Mulayam Singh in the State. Mr. Mulayam Singh, who headed the Lok Dal (B), became the Chief Minister only after beating back a determined bid by the Lok Dal (A) president, Ajit Singh. The two Lok Dals merged to form the Janata Dal government, but since the majority of the MLAs in the Mulayam Singh-government were from Lok Dal (A) and elected from constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh their loyalties were with their region (read Mr. Tikait ) and Mr. Ajit Singh.
So, when Mr. Mulayam Singh thwarted the BKU leader's attempt to stage a farmers' mahapanchayat in Lucknow on July 15, 1990 and had him arrested, about 70 ( Lok Dal-A ) MLAs threatened to resign. Mr. Tikait was later released. He remained a factor in western UP politics for the rest of the decade.
His death has been condoled by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, Mr. Mulayam Singh, the former BJP president, Rajnath Singh, Mr. Ajit Singh and the president of the State unit of the BJP, Surya Pratap Shahi.