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Bharatiya Kisan Unions | At the forefront of the farmers’ agitation

For almost three weeks, farmers have been protesting on the outskirts of Delhi, demanding the government withdraw the farm laws. The agitation has gained momentum with more and more farmers joining in despite the government’s call to end the protests.

While several farmers’ unions from different parts of the country have joined the agitation, it is mainly spearheaded by organisations from Punjab and Haryana. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan), one of the largest farmer unions in Punjab, has been at its forefront. The BKU (Ugrahan), along with the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) and 30-odd other farmer unions, has been holding the protests under the banner of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee.

Also read: Farmers have constitutional right to continue with protest: SC

The BKU (Ugrahan), led by former soldier Joginder Singh Ugrahan, has a significant hold among farmers in the Malwa region, also known as “the cotton belt” of Punjab. The union, founded in 2002, has been on the street protesting against the government’s agriculture policies ever since the farm ordinances were promulgated in June. In September, the Centre passed three farm Bills in Parliament, replacing the ordinances, which, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have empowered the farmers. But the BKU (Ugrahan) and the other protesting unions have rejected the government’s claims, terming the Bills “anti-farmer” and demanding their withdrawal.

In August, the BKU (Ugrahan) launched a five-day campaign in about 600 villages in Punjab to “inform” the public about the “ill-effects” of the farm ordinances. Led by Mr. Ugrahan and Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, a former teacher who took an early retirement from his job to take up the cause of farmers, the union vowed that it would not allow leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and others who supported the ordinances to enter any village in the State. The protests quickly gained momentum in the State, which is called the “bread basket of India”. Agriculture is the main lever of Punjab’s economy, which produces 17.4% of India’s wheat and 11.32% of its rice.

Also read: Maharashtra farmers call for ‘Chalo Delhi’ on Dec. 21


In September, the BKU (Ugrahan) stepped up the protests. They staged a sit-in outside Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s Patiala residence as well as Shiromani Akali Dal patron and former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s house in his ancestral village Badal. It also launched a ‘rail roko’ agitation, disrupting train services in the State. The protesters started shaking up Punjab politics even before they launched the ‘Dilli Chalo’ campaign. In September, immediately after Parliament passed the three Bills by voice vote, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Parkash Singh Badal’s daughter in law, resigned from the BJP-led government as the Food Processing Industries Minister. Within weeks, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Harsimrat Kaur’s husband and the president of the Shiromani Akali Dal, announced that the party was ending its decades-long alliance with the BJP over the farm laws. The Congress-led government of Punjab also voiced its strong opposition to the laws.

With the support of almost all non-BJP political factions in Punjab, the farmers took the protest to the borders of Delhi. Mr. Ugrahan has been camping at Delhi’s Tikri border with thousands of his followers since later November. The BKU (Ugrahan) was at the centre of a controversy after its members demanded the release of jailed activists Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam and others on December 10, the Human Rights Day. The government immediately seized on the incident and said the “so-called” farmers agitation has “almost got infiltrated by leftist and Maoist elements”. The BKU (Ugrahan), however, remained unapologetic. “We did nothing wrong. We had just organised an event demanding their (jailed activists) release on Human Rights Day on Thursday,” Sukhdev Singh, Punjab general secretary of the union, said on Monday. But other unions were not of the same opinion. They distanced themselves from these demands of the BKU (Ugrahan) and asked the outfit to stay focussed on the collective protest’s demands.

Also read: Farmers' protest | Government-farmers committee will be fruitful only after repeal of agriculture laws, say farmer groups on Supreme Court proposal

Another union at the forefront is the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC), which has a substantial following among marginal and small farmers and agriculture labourers in the Majha and Doaba regions of Punjab. Like the BKU (Ugrahan), the KMSC had also started its agitation in June, by staging sit-ins outside collectorates in several districts against the farm ordinances. On September 7, members of the KMSC started a campaign to “court arrest” and on September 24, it kicked-off a ‘rail roko’ agitation. While most other unions lifted their blockade on train services on November 24, the KMSC continued their protests, especially in Amritsar’s Jandiala. Led by its president Satnam Singh Pannu and general secretary Sarvan Singh Pandher, the KMSC has got the key points of the three farm laws translated into Punjabi and distributed over 1,00,000 copies among the farmers and workers.

Its leaders have repeatedly said they would not accept anything other than the withdrawal of the three farm laws by the government to stop their protests.

More factions

There are more BKU factions in the agitation. The BKU (Ekta-Dakaunda), led by Buta Singh Burj and Jagmohan Singh, has been working on issues surrounding the rising agrarian crises, and has demanded a farm loan waiver. Protest leaders admit that Jagmohan Singh, who had worked in the cooperative department of the Punjab government, had played a key role in bringing over 30 organisations under one roof in the protest against the farm laws. The BKU (Rajewal), led by Balbir Singh who formed his union in the 1990s, is another group in the fold.

In Haryana, it’s the Gurnam Singh-led faction of BKU (Chaduni), which is in the driver’s seat. After parting ways with the BKU (Tikait) in 2012, Gurnam Singh has been working on farmers’ issues, having built substantial influence in State’s sugarcane belt. The BKU faction led by Rakesh Tikait, son of noted farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, has also joined the protest. In the 1980s, the BKU founded by the senior Tikait in Uttar Pradesh, became a force to reckon with in north Indian States, but it later split into about 50 different factions. But many of these factions have now come together to protest against the farm laws.

When the Supreme Court on Wednesday proposed the setting up of a committee of farmer leaders from across the country, it mentioned the BKU. “The committee can talk and resolve this issue. Secure the names of some farmers’ unions who want to join... It should include the BKU and other leaders.”

Despite many rounds of talks, neither the unions nor the government has shown any willingness to compromise. The farmers have stuck to their demand for repealing the laws, while the government has maintained that the laws are good for both farmers and the economy. Meanwhile, the protests are set to intensify with more farmers getting ready to travel to the borders of Delhi.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 5:19:17 PM |

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