‘We never asked anyone to vote in a particular way, not even in our own households. We spoke about the Andolan and communal harmony. It was up to the people to go and vote as per their free will,’ says Rakesh Tikait.
Rakesh Tikait had just touched down in Delhi. He had been to places — Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and now the national Capital. I caught a ride with him from the airport to the city, hoping to find him exhausted and sleepy, but Tikait was lively and jovial. He had a few hours before his Chandigarh departure.
As we sat in a white SUV with six other people, Tikait shared his experiences in Jharkhand. But I pulled him back to his home state — Uttar Pradesh.
So, what did he think of the recent Assembly election results in Uttar Pradesh? How did the BJP win? One of the campaigns of the farmers’ movement was to defeat the incumbent BJP government in Uttar Pradesh. Tikait smiled and spoke in his typical style, “They (BJP) have their ways of winning. We are movement people, not political ones.”
He continued, “We never asked anyone to vote in a particular way, not even in our own households. But we did raise farmers’ issues — sugarcane, MSP, etc. We spoke about the Andolan and communal harmony. It was up to the people to go out and vote as per their free will.”
I asked him about the fate of the breakaway factions aka Rajewal and six other unions. Will they be taken back? “There is a committee which decides on these matters, we will discuss and decide,” Tikait said.
On whether this could be the SKM’s weakest moment ever since the Andolan began, he said: “Is it SKM’s job to sit on the road 24×7? Are thousands of tractors and sitting at protest sites our only strength? Whenever our intervention is required, we work there. SKM is a platform. People in need align with us.”
But was it fair to leave Delhi without MSP? Were non-Punjabi and Haryanvi farmers let down? “Do movements go on for 13 months? Are 13 months early to leave? Whoever says it’s early, that person should tell me the number of nights they have spent at the (Delhi’s) borders? We will answer then.”
Tikait continued: “There will be an Andolan for MSP, we are campaigning across the country. The government has also made an MSP committee; by 31 March, it will take shape.”
Does the BJP’s victory in any way undermine the farmers’ movement? “There is nothing to undermine. Were we fighting the elections that we lost? We focus on farmers’ issues and our real victory rests in making our governments sensitive to farmers’ issues,” Tikait said.
He continued, “The (UP) government has promised to cut the electricity prices by half. We will keep a close look at that. Also, sugarcane prices have not been proportionately increased. And 23 crops need to be connected with Digital India. That is our next Andolan. The government should include them. Why should sugarcane payments happen in 14 days or one year? Why not immediately? All these issues need to be addressed.”
I then raised the sensitive Lakhimpur Kheri issue. Tikait was one of the key negotiators, after all. Have the victims and their families got relief and the accused punished? “When the entire system has been compromised, what can one say? The prime accused will be out in 3 months; how will the nation feel about his? If the entire country feels it’s right, then we’ll accept it,” he said.
“The people know what is happening is wrong, and the government is not right. But this doesn’t necessarily translate into votes. It doesn’t mean that by winning elections, a party can free criminals at will. If the party plays with the emotions of the nation, by freeing the key accused. People will know,” Rakesh added.
He assured me that the demands for compensation have been met and with the new government just in, the victims’ families will get government jobs too. Tikait and SKM have been talking with the government.
Finally, what is the future of the farmers’ movement? “We don’t favour sitting on the roads, we have our farming and other work to do. Once the issues come up, we will address them and work for the farmers.”
By this time, the car reached its destination. I got off, hoping to meet Tikait again, with more details on the farmers’ movement.
The writer is an independent agri-policy analyst and the former director, Policy and Outreach, National Seed Association of India. Views expressed are personal
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