Muzaffarnagar mega farmers rally vows to oust Yogi Adityanath regime

Anger against inflation, falling incomes spurs unity among protestors across religion, caste.

September 05, 2021 03:44 pm | Updated November 19, 2021 08:29 pm IST - MUZAFFARNAGAR

"The last nine months is preparation. The andolan has been born today in Muzaffarnagar,” Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait said in Muzaffarnagar on September 5, 2021.

"The last nine months is preparation. The andolan has been born today in Muzaffarnagar,” Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait said in Muzaffarnagar on September 5, 2021.

Lakhs of farmers streamed into Muzaffarnagar on Sunday for the Samyukt Kisan Morcha’s largest mahapanchayat so far to hear Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait declare his determination to oust the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh next year by tapping into rural anger and uniting farmers and workers across religion and caste.

Mr. Tikait, who was welcomed to the stage with a wave of sound and a traditional trumpet fanfare, vowed to continue the farmers’ protest till Yogi Adityanath is overthrown though he was ambivalent about contesting the election himself.

During his speech, Mr. Tikait called out both “Allahu Akbar” and “Har Har Mahadev”.

His huge audience echoed his chants that rang across this western U.P. town, the site of brutal communal riots just eight years ago.

“In my father’s time, it was common to hear both chants together during such meetings, and we want to revive that kind of atmosphere again,” the BKU leader said. Mr. Tikait, who was welcomed to the stage with a wave of sound and a traditional trumpet fanfare, vowed to continue the farmers’ protest till Yogi Adityanath was overthrown though he was ambivalent about contesting the polls himself.

 

The SKM is a platform for farm unions which, for the last ten months, has been protesting against three agricultural reform laws which could affect State-run markets, and also called for a legal guarantee for minimum support prices for all farm produce. Unlike in Punjab and Haryana, where the protests originated, there is no strong existing network of State-run markets or extensive government procurement of crops in U.P. Hence, for most farmers from the State, who support the Tikait group, the demand for guaranteed MSP prices holds much promise.

“We voted for the BJP in 2019 because it promised us MSP rates that would make farming profitable. But [Prime Minister Narendra] Modiji only lied to us. What is the point of declaring MSP if there are no mandis to sell to the government and the private trader refuses to buy at that rate?” said Veer Singh, a farmer from Meerut who said he had sold his paddy crop at prices 22% below the announced MSP rate this year.

Parkash, a farmer from the Charkhi Dadri tehsil in Haryana, noted that even as farm profits fell, input costs for everything from diesel to electricity to urea had risen. “It is not only for farmers, even the price of cooking oil, of a gas cylinder have all surged under the Modi government. He is only looking to help his corporate friends, not the common farmers who voted for him,” he added.

It is this anger and despair due to inflation, falling farm incomes and unemployment that the SKM hopes will unite farmers and workers as well as Hindus and Muslims in U.P. In what was seen as a significant gesture, BKU president Naresh Tikait and Muslim farmer leader Ghulam Jola sat next to each other on the mahapanchayat stage.

“We have to get over the divisive politics of this government. There was a dip in our relationship after the Muzaffarnagar riots but now it is time to move ahead,” said Mr Naresh Tikait as Mr Jola echoed the sentiment.

They insisted that the U.P. government’s recent overtures towards cane farmers are too little too late.

“This government has to go,” said Naresh Tikait, adding he was not against “Yogi or Modi” but “their policies, which are anti-farmer.”

While he ruled out any direct entry into electoral politics, his younger brother hedged his bets. “There are still six months until the elections, so there is time to decide,” he told The Hindu .

Interestingly, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which depends on the same support base as the Tikaits, provided back-end support for the gathering, and while leader Jayant Chaudhary was not on stage, his face was on a number of the hoardings around town.

Many who could not enter the standing-room only grounds where the mahapanchayat was held packed the streets of Muzaffarnagar as well as tractors and buses parked on the highway, watching the leaders on stage through LED screens installed through the town. Crowd estimates varied from one to five lakh farmers, and even some police officers present on the grounds said that it was larger than any other gathering in the area in recent history.

While the majority of those attending were from U.P. and Haryana, large contingents arrived from Punjab, and smaller groups represented most Indian States. The ten-member team from Tamil Nadu received the loudest wave of applause apart from Mr. Tikait himself.

“The farm laws have done one good thing in that they integrated farmers across India and helped them rise above regional barriers. The demand for an MSP law is a national one,” said Easan, founder of the Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Welfare Association which recently hosted Mr. Tikait in Chennai, claiming that 20,000 farmers had Megaturned up to listen to him.

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