Farmers are ready to continue protests on the borders of Delhi, against the three agricultural laws, for the remaining three and half years of the Narendra Modi government’s second term, said farmer leader Narendra Tikait. The protests cannot be “culled” he said.
The farmers’ protest has been continuing for more than 100 days. Narendra Tikait does not hold any official position in the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), formed by his father, Mahendra Singh Tikait, in 1986. He mostly focuses on the family’s farming activities but is as vocal on farmers’ issues as his two elder brothers, Naresh and Rakesh Tikait, who are leading from the front.
Speaking to news agency PTI, at his home in Muzaffarnagar’s Sisauli, the 45-year-old farmer also said his two brothers and the entire Tikait family would leave the protest if any wrongdoing is proved against a single family member. Narendra Tikait rejected allegations of making money from the agitation.
The eldest brother, Naresh Tikait, is the BKU president, while Rakesh Tikait holds the position of national spokesperson of the organisation. BKU under Mahendra Singh Tikait’s leadership in 1988 had laid a virtual siege of Meerut demanding higher prices for sugarcane, cancellation of loans and lowering of water and electricity rates. The same year, BKU held a week-long protest in Delhi’s Boat Club to focus on the plight of farmers.
After Mahendra Singh Tikait’s death in 2011, Naresh and Rakesh Tikait have been leading the BKU in various roles, though a number of factions have emerged in various parts of the country over the years.
Narendra Tikait said the Centre thinks that it can “cull” the farmers’ protest like it has “culled” other agitations in the past using various tactics. “I am here in Sisauli but my eyes are on the protest,” he said, adding that he keeps visiting Ghazipur border where hundreds of farmers and BKU supporters are camping since November 2020.
“This government has a misconception, probably because it never faced such kind of protest, but we have seen agitations and been part of those for 35 years. This government only has an experience of facing smaller protests and of getting those culled through various tactics,” Mr Tikait said. “They cannot crush this protest by any means. This will continue for as long as our demands are not met. This government has a tenure of three and a half years left, and we can continue the movement till the end of its term,” he said.
“If the government keeps saying again and again that crops would be bought at MSP, then why cannot they give this in writing? They keep harping about giving subsidies on LPG cylinders, but that subsidy is also gone,” he said. Mr Tikait alleged that the Centre has done the same to the school education sector, where private institutes are thriving and minting money while government facilities are suffering.
“Now they want business houses to store crops, hoard those and later sell at desired rates. Their push is for business and that’s the agenda,” he said, adding that farmers are already reeling under the high cost of labour and fuel prices. When asked about allegations that the Tikait family holds land worth hundreds of crores and that BKU is involved in hooliganism in the region, he said, “There is nothing that they (the government) could find against us and so this (making allegations) is happening. If they find a single fault in any member of our family, then we will return from Delhi.”
He also rejected allegations of hooliganism by BKU. “Why would we do it? Some even say that we are taking money for the protest. More than 200 of our farmers have sacrificed their lives during the protest. People are donating money even during the last rites of those who have died. There is no question of taking money for protests as we are not short on any resources,” he said.
Describing his family’s position as ‘Chaudhary’ or head of Balyan Khap (the Balyan caste council), Mr Tikait said this Khap leads 84 villages in the region according to traditions continuing for ages. His eldest brother Naresh Tikait is the head of the Balyan Khap, which makes him de facto head of ”Sarv Khap” (all caste councils).
“We have 84 villages (belonging to the Balyan Khap). By that measure, we have three lakh bigha of land. When our father died, he had passed on the responsibility of 84 villages to us. We are ‘Chaudhary’ of 84 villages and all this is ours only. What are we going to do by seeking more money?” he asked.
Mr Tikait also hinted at a ”Sarv Khap” meeting in Soram in the near future to further mobilise regional support if protests continued further on Delhi’s borders and the government does not agree to farmers’ demands.
Thousands of farmers are camping at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur, demanding that the Centre repeal three farm laws that were enacted in September 2020 and make a new law guaranteeing minimum support price for crops. The farmers fear the new laws would destroy their livelihoods and leave them at the mercy of large corporations.