They may have been booked for inciting trouble in Muzaffarnagar in the first place but Naresh and Rakesh Tikait — respectively chairman and spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union — have now mounted the barricades of harmony, calling for the Muslims displaced from their villages in the region to come back.

On Thursday, the influential farmers’ organisation spearheaded by the sons of the late peasant leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, gave a call for peace in strife-torn western Uttar Pradesh, saying it would facilitate the return of Muslims to their homes in riot-scarred villages.

At a meeting of the Baliyan panchayat which he heads, Naresh Tikait declared the riots a stain on the history of the region. “People who spread hatred have crossed all boundaries of humanity.” He appealed to everyone in society not to ‘support those who spread rumours and incite riots, and not let the unity of Ram-Rahim break’.

He urged Muslims not to leave their villages, and assured them that ‘all protection would be provided’. Mr Tikait said that committees had been set up in all villages under the panchayat, which had been entrusted with the responsibility of bringing back the displaced back to their homes.

Rakesh Tikait told The Hindu, “Our first priority is to help people return. Outsiders attacked and destroyed harmony here.” When asked if it was possible to bridge the trust deficit that had emerged between Muslims and Jats, he said, “That is our task. Hindu villagers are ready and willing to honourably welcome their Muslim brothers.”

It is understood that SP supremo Mulayam Singh spoke to Mr. Naresh Tikait earlier this week, and urged him to play a responsible role in restoring peace.

But even as they project themselves as peace-makers, questions surround the role of the Tikaits in the run-up to the September 7 riot. In conversations with The Hindu, many Muslim residents in Muzaffarnagar had named them as among the primary ‘culprits’ who had stoked tensions. Both Tikait brothers had attended the mahapanchayat on September 7, and have been booked by the police for allegedly whipping up communal passions through inflammatory speeches.

Mr. Rakesh Tikait admitted that he had attended the mahapanchayat but denied making such speeches. “In fact, the administration had asked us to attend the meeting, and to calm tensions. We asked the crowds to divert their energy towards work, not to carry weapons but tools for farming.”

But, he argued, the crowds were ‘out of control’. “They were not our people. They were not listening to any leader. They did not belong to any platform. They were furious with police for naming people wrongly in the initial FIRs regarding the August 27 incident.” He added that instead of defending his own role, the priority at the moment was bringing calm.