The UP govt's high-handedness turned farmers' leader Rakesh Tikait from villain to victim to hero, says Ashutosh


One blunder nullifies another blunder and the new blunder creates a new situation. This is how one can describe the present game of cat-and-mouse between the Government and farmers. There is no denying the fact that the farmers committed hara-kiri on January 26 when a section of them decided to storm Red Fort and hoist a religious flag there. But the original blunder was the decision to hold a tractor rally within Delhi. Till then, the farmers’ agitation had been hailed as peaceful, non-violent, disciplined and Gandhian. For almost two months, they sat on the road and the world took note of them. They had no reason for theatrics to make themselves heard or be noticed.

Their agitation had forced the Government not only to listen to them but to also climb down. So it was beyond comprehension what they wanted to prove with a tractor march, other than to showcase their strength. Now, one can safely say that they were wrongly advised, as their strength was something that had already been proven.

The decision-makers of the movement did not realise that it is always difficult to control and discipline a rally. And if a rally is on the move, then it is harder to manage. In such a situation, it is easy for anti-social elements and government-linked saboteurs to mingle in the crowd in the garb of volunteers and create mayhem at the opportune time. This is exactly what happened and discredited the movement. It is good that after the Red Fort fiasco, the farmers decided to cancel their march to parliament on February 1 (Budget Day).

Rally dynamics

But the Government committed a blunder too. On Thursday night, the UP government falsely assumed that farmers had lost support and sympathy amongst the public. It decided to uproot the agitating farmers camping at the Ghazipur border. By late evening, it appeared that the police would not have much difficulty in having this camp vacated but with an emotional outburst, farmers’ leader Rakesh Tikait turned the tables on the administration. His tears proved more powerful than the might of the UP government. His address resonated across the entire Jat land of western UP, which till then had been lukewarm in extending support to him.

Tikait, this far, had been seen as a government ‘stooge’. He was also perceived as a loose cannon and an irresponsible leader. He was blamed by his own friends for provoking farmers to move towards the Red Fort. The high-handedness of the UP government turned him into a victim from a villain and his support swelled overnight; now, he is a hero. The police had to retreat. It could neither arrest him nor uproot the protesters. Had the police waited a few more days, Tikait would have been reduced to a non-entity.

Changed narrative

This blunder has altered the whole narrative. Farmers who were losing support, especially in urban areas, are now gaining sympathy. Now, for them, western UP can emerge as a new power centre like Punjab and Haryana. If the Yogi government decides to indulge in more theatrics, it could be counter-productive for the BJP in ‘Jat land’. This area has firmly supported the BJP in the last six years, especially after Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013.

The UP state elections will take place in February next year. It is not without reason that Akhilesh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal, Tejaswi Yadav, Ajit Singh and other political leaders called up Rakesh Tikait after his emotional outburst.

Mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar

Now, a ‘Kisan Mahapanchayat’ is also taking place in Muzaffarnagar. Let us not forget, it was a Mahapanchayat like this which, after the Muzaffarnagar riots, played a pivotal role in the defeat of Akhilesh Yadav and huge gains for the BJP. This momentum was so strong that the BJP in 2017 formed the government in the state after over a decade; in 2019, it won 64 of a total of 70 parliamentary seats. Can the BJP afford to lose its support base in UP?

The farmers too have to understand that they cannot hold on to their agitation for eternity. The ecosystem at the moment is not supportive of any democratic movement. Every movement is branded anti-national and Pak-sponsored. A section of the media is hell-bent on supporting the Government in any movement against the latter.

Like the farmers’ movement, the anti-CAA Shaheen Bagh movement was also branded an anti-India protest. When students in JNU and Jamia were beaten up by police and masked persons, vast swathes of the media, like now, had hailed the Delhi police. Other democratic institutions have also surrendered to the executive. In this situation, a minor mistake can prove to be catastrophic. Farmers’ leaders should rethink whether to accept the government’s proposal to suspend the three contentious laws for 18 months, while continuing to negotiate with the government. This would still be construed as victory.

The writer is an author and Editor,