The BKU leader’s access to the administration and intervention at key events of the protest has led to speculation of support
In the Lakhimpur Kheri stand-off between farmers and the Uttar Pradesh government, the role of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait has come under the scanner. While a section is praising his practical approach in preventing a tricky situation from spiralling out of control and keeping the farmers’ movement on track, others feel he agreed for too little, too soon and appeared like a BJP agent after the incident that resulted in eight deaths, including that of four Sikh farmers.
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However, there is no doubt that post-Sunday, Mr. Tikait has strengthened his image as the sole leader of farmers in the region and that the ruling dispensation is fuelling his ambition. Observers say the BJP government has added a few more metres to the long rope that it has given to the BKU since January when broke down in public at the Ghazipur border protest site.
While political leaders like Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Akhilesh Yadav, and Satish Chandra Mishra were either detained or stopped from proceeding to Lakhimpur, the BKU leader was given free access.
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Sources in BKU confirmed that though the Ghaziabad administration was hesitant, verbal orders from Lucknow cleared the path for Mr. Tikait.
Notably, ADG (Law & Order) Prashant Kumar, who addressed the farmers with Mr. Tikait in Tikunia, was serving in Meerut Zone before being promoted.
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Observers said the argument that Mr Tikait leads a non-political farmer outfit doesn’t hold much weight because another BKU leader, Gurnam Singh Chaduni, head of the Haryana faction and a prominent face of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, was detained in Meerut for violating Section 144. Other prominent leaders of the SKM like Yogendra Yadav and Shiv Kumar Kakkaji chose to continue with their pre-decided programmes.
Observers recall that something similar happened after the Republic Day incident in January this year when the administration and one-upmanship of Mr. Tikait pushed V.M. Singh, a farmer leader from the Terai belt, out of the Ghazipur protest site, leaving his supporters under the BKU umbrella.
“On January 28, when Tikait decided to stay put at the Ghazipur border despite all odds, the Sikh farmers from the Terai belt in U.P. and Uttarakhand found a new leader in him, somebody who saved their dignity in the hour of crisis,” said a senior farmer leader from the Terai belt. “Had he left, a 1984 kind of situation could have unfolded at the Ghazipur border,” he said.
By listening to the officers on the ground, the BJP has virtually accepted that the party didn’t have a leader in the region whom farmers would listen to during a crisis.
“Unless the party still counts on Tikait,” said a BJP leader from West U.P., adding that the party failed to include any credible farmer face in the recent expansions. Varun Gandhi, the BJP MP from the neighbouring Pilibhit, which has a significant Sikh population, has been speaking in favour of farmers but he was not considered for the talks.
Those who know Mr. Tikait say that like his father he wants to be the sole leader of farmers in the region. In a recent interview with The Hindu, when asked why the BKU supporters heckled the BJP MLA from Budhana, Umesh Malik, in Sisauli, Mr. Tikait said because Mr. Malik dared to bring V.M. Singh and Ghulam Mohammad Jaula to address farmers on their home turf. “Election results don’t demotivate us, we will continue to fight for the farmers’ cause,” he had said.
Questioning Mr Tikait’s focus on compensation rather than the arrest of the son of Union Minister Ajay Kumar Mishra, some like Ravindra Singh of Khalsa Aid have described the announced amount of ₹45 lakh as “blood money without seeking full justice.” It is being felt that Mr. Tikait should have at least waited for the videos that represented the farmers’ side of the story to come out before arriving at a truce.
Local media sources have pointed to the change in the tone of Mr. Tikait’s tweets on Tuesday, wherein he said the decision reached out on Monday was not final and demanded dismissal of the Minister and arrest of his son, as a sign of responding to the mood on the ground. “Perhaps, he knows too much proximity with the administration could diminish his credibility,” said a source.
Rajveer Singh, vice-president of the U.P. unit of BKU, however, said their aim was neither to strengthen the BJP nor the opposition. “The arrests would eventually happen. Mr Tikait was there to protect the interest of farmers and ensure that the movement against the farm laws didn’t lose track.”
Dr. Krantipal, Professor of Punjabi at Aligarh Muslim University, felt the decision of the local Sikh farmers seem to be driven by local realities.
“The Sikh farmers in the Lakhimpur Kheri belt have mostly migrated from the Doaba and Majha areas of Punjab and have little or no connection with the politically dominant Malwa belt. They need a local leader to represent them and in Mr. Tikait they have found one,” he noted.
Also, the mobilisation of Sikh farmers, he pointed out, was seen differently from the movement of Hindu Jat farmers. “A section of media is already scanning faces on the T-shirts of youngsters. As many extremists from Punjab took shelter in the Terai belt during the insurgency, farmers feared their children could be screened if they took a hard stand.”
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