Remembering Ghulam Mohammad Jola, the crusader of farmers’ rights

Ghulam Mohammad Jola (left) with BKU president Naresh Tikait at a protest meet in Muzaffarnagar, U.P., last September

Ghulam Mohammad Jola (left) with BKU president Naresh Tikait at a protest meet in Muzaffarnagar, U.P., last September | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

As India witnesses a new wave of litigations over the mandir-masjid issue that threatens communal harmony, the passing of one of the champions of secularism and a key founder of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), Ghulam Mohammad Jola, is tragic. Along with farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, Jola led and took part in several farmers’ protests in Uttar Pradesh and in New Delhi. He confronted the state, served jail terms, and also interacted with prominent political leaders.

I got to know Jola during my visit to western Uttar Pradesh for my research. On one occasion, he said, “Movements have taught me great lessons in life.” The day before he passed away, he participated in an event to mark the 11th death anniversary of Tikait. According to one account, Jola suffered a cardiac arrest while reading the news of a split in the BKU the next morning.

Slogan revival

In 1987, the BKU organised a major protest in Shamli district. Two farmers — Akbar Ali and Jaipal — were killed in police firing, but the BKU continued the protest, placing the bodies on the main road. The slogan ‘ Har- Har MahadevAllah-Hu-Akbar’ was born here to celebrate BKU’s secular character. It became the movement’s slogan and was used later in other protests in Meerut and New Delhi. In the recent farmers’ movement this slogan was revived at a mahapanchayat held in Muzaffarnagar last year to mark the reconciliation between Jats and Muslims. With the rise of Hindutva politics, the secular fabric of western Uttar Pradesh has seen a dramatic change. After the 2013 riots, Jola broke away from the BKU and formed his own union, the Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Manch (BKMM) with a new slogan: ‘ Ek Ho, Nek Ho (Come together, Be Pious)’.

Jola being interviewed by the writer

Jola being interviewed by the writer | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Jola was the key figure in the reconciliation between Jats and Muslims before the 2022 Assembly elections. Jola reminded Rakesh Singh Tikait — Mahendra Singh Tikait’s son and national spokesperson of BKU — about two big mistakes: one was the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and the second was their role in Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh’s defeat in the 2019 election. He asked Rakesh Tikait to apologise to aid reconciliation, which he did, leading to a new bonhomie between Jats and Muslims. This reconciliation brought electoral success in the last Assembly elections in the region for the Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance.

‘Namaz, not an abuse’

For Jola, Mahendra Singh Tikait was the quintessential secular Indian. During a protest in Haridwar, Jola, a practising Muslim, asked senior Tikait to visit a masjid for Friday prayers. But the nearest masjid was 8 km away. Tikait advised him to offer the namaz at Har Ki Pauri on the banks of the Ganges. Jola performed namaz with his friends. When people complained, Tikait told them off: “He was offering namaz and namaz is not an abuse.”

Mahendra Singh Tikait and Mayawati were at political loggerheads. But other chief ministers, from N.D. Tiwari to Mulayam Singh Yadav, were always appreciative of the Tikait-Jola-led BKU’s work. Owing to the farmer’s protests, Jola was imprisoned several times. Often senior Tikait hosted a grand welcome for him to celebrate his release.

Jola told me with deep anguish about how he toured village after village to rescue people in tractors the whole night during the Muzaffarnagar violence. He recalled the burial of a young mother, who on that night held her dead baby close to her chest. He helped many victims in his village and also those in settlement colonies.

Last February, I met Jola for the last time. I interviewed him for a film we were making. After the interview, my team and I headed to our car. He joined us but he was in a hurry to attend another meeting. As soon as he saw a motorbike on the muddy road near his home, he jumped on to it, rode pillion and disappeared. No word was exchanged between him and the biker. Jola’s response to that bike ride was like a teenager, full of life, despite being an octogenarian.

The writer teaches at Jamia Millia Central University, New Delhi.

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Printable version | May 26, 2022 5:23:46 pm |