GHAZIPUR, Uttar Pradesh — We met Rakesh Tikait, the national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), under the flyover on the Ghazipur border between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh — home to farmers from western UP for the past eight months.
It was 10th August and he spent the afternoon meeting with the scores of families who had traveled from the hinterlands to bless him and the farmers’ movement mounted against the three central farm laws that they believe will end their way of life. They all wanted photos with the 52-year-old Jat leader who famously cried when the UP government tried removing farmers from the border in January. His tears galvanized farmers across the agrarian landscape of western UP.
Earlier that day, Tikait met the family of the nine-year-old Dalit girl who was allegedly raped, murdered and forcibly cremated in Delhi on 2 August.
We spoke with Tikait about the farmers’ movement, the 2022 Assembly election in UP, and his call to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Why do you think the country forgot how much power farmers wield?
Political parties removed the word “farmer” from their manifestos. Instead, they raised issues like caste, religion, temples, and language. Slowly, governments have removed the word “farmer” from their vocabulary. But there has always been a farmers’ movement in India.
As big companies captured sectors like agriculture and milk, farmers were not getting a good price for their crops, they were not getting a good rate for their land. There were movements on different platforms. But after loans were given to farmers through the KCC (Kisan Credit Card introduced in 1998), the farmers’ movement was weakened. The farmers who used to fight for price started using loans. But when the government started looking at their land and they did not get a good price for it, the movements revived. There have been several agitations in the past seven-eight years. Now, this government has brought a law that is not in the interest of farmers. The world has seen how the farmers have responded.
Was it difficult to put together this movement?
It was difficult to put together this movement but everyone was determined. There was a moment when the whole community came together and there was one opinion. That is why it was possible. A few groups on their own would not have been able to do it. People said that this is not the time to be separate but to do it together. They said the time has come for one platform. A decision was made to fight together. We believe the nation is standing with us.
Will you contest the 2022 UP election?
No, I will not contest.
Will the farmers vote as farmers or will they be divided by caste?
Caste has become a big factor in the country. But what we need to strengthen is the movement, the farmers’ movement, no matter who forms the government. If the movement is strong then we can influence policy changes. The policy change will happen from the movement and pressure, not by politics or political parties.
Who will the farmers vote for?
I can’t tell you that. We don’t tell people whom to vote for. We don’t support any party but we won’t vote for the BJP. Their governments lie. They control the media. In UP; potato, sugarcane, and wheat farmers are facing a big issue. Sugarcane will be a big issue. During her time in office, Mayawati increased the MSP of sugarcane twice. The BJP has not done it once. Sugarcane farmers are owed Rs 12,000 crores by the state. The BJP operates by controlling sentiments. In West Bengal, they went and asked for a “fistful of rice.” We said, “They are asking for a fistful of rice, just ask them where the MSP is for the rice?” It was over for them. The same thing will happen in UP.
Things like gas, diesel, and petrol are so costly. Poor people have been crushed. This election will be difficult for the BJP. They could suffer losses.
In 2019, there are studies that show the people’s response to the central government’s welfare schemes like Ujjwala and Jan Dhan Yojna.
If those who have benefitted from those welfare schemes want to vote for them, they can. But those who have suffered, won’t do it. One looks at a lot of things while voting. There is also corruption and sarkari gundagardi. In UP, the DM of that district will declare their party’s candidate the winner. That is what happened in the recent Zila Parishad chairmanship election. They used muscle power to win. The law and the Constitution have been annihilated. The public has to be vigilant.
What do you think of the state of the Opposition?
It isn’t there. It is weak. I can’t see any force in them.
What did you think of the UP government’s Covid coverage?
It was a failure. It wasn’t there. People fended for themselves. People died due to lack of oxygen but no one was punished. People kept dying, but no official or minister was dismissed. People will also die of starvation. When farmers stop sowing grains and it goes to the corporations, the price will increase. People will die of hunger in their country.
Will people still be angry over the second wave when the election is held? People did not say or do anything in the months that have followed. Makes one wonder if people have forgotten?
People have not forgotten. Where have people forgotten? No one has forgotten anything. People are afraid of speaking the truth after what happened to people who did. People are silent and in their homes, but they are angry. You’ll see the anger in the election.
They won an election — yes, it was indirect — and there are reports of irregularities —but they have claimed it as an endorsement of how they handled Covid-19.
They did not win. They won on the basis of sarkari gundagardi and the strength of the police. The public has not voted for them. And the people will not forget Covid or what happened in this election.
The protest movement is made up of the camera, the pen and the farmer. They have put the butt of a rifle on the movement. Our people who would have come from Gorakhpur in a train, they can’t come. People used to pay Rs 10 and hop on a train. You could travel a big distance. A person could reach Delhi for Rs 18. All that is over now. Even trains are being sold (privatised). The public sees everything.
Do you think this will be a communal election?
They will do something. Whether it is caste or religion, they will start some agenda. Time will tell.
But you supported the BJP in 2019.
I did not support them. I voted for them. I didn’t tell anyone else to do it. My wife voted for someone else. Everyone has the right to vote the way they want. At the time, I thought it was right to vote for them. There could have been ten reasons for it. In the same way, my wife would have had ten reasons to vote otherwise. But I didn’t tell anyone. There are many things that can go into deciding whom to vote for. One factor is who the local candidates are. Sometimes people work differently from the party. Conditions change.
How will you align the farmers’ movement with the UP election?
That will happen when the time comes.I can’t tell you so specifically. Right now, we focus on the movement. We have to fight the law, we can’t fight the election.
Your stand on the law?
It has to be repealed.