Munderwa: The Bharatiya Kisan Union’s grand farmers’ meeting at Munderwa in Basti district of Uttar Pradesh on February 25, gave impetus to the movement in the Purvanchal region.
Large multitudes of farmers in green turbans, green-white caps, women and youth gathered for the mahapanchayat in a field near the Munderwa sugar mill, in spite of the fact that the Mahapanchayat had not been publicised much. Shortly after the panchayat started, four-wheelers were stopped by police from entering the assembly venue.
The Kisan Mahapanchayat, which lasted for more than four hours, was addressed by Naresh Tikait, the national president of the BKU. In his address, Tikait alleged that the BJP government is bent on destroying the farmers. “If we lose our lands, and can no longer carry out farming, what will we be left with? We have carried out farming for thousands of years and will not leave our land under any circumstances,” he said.
Tikait urged the farmers to sever all ties with BJP legislators and not to invite them to any events. He added that extending support to the BJP was his biggest mistake and that he never meant for his meetings to become BJP’s election rallies. “Today, the government has clashed with us (farmers). We only want the talks to happen smoothly, the prices of crops to be paid properly, and our soil to be saved,” he said.
Munderwa has been a favourite with farmers as a site of protest for decades. The BKU has a strong base in this area. Diwan Chandra Chaudhary, who hailed from the region and passed away in March 2020, was the national vice-president of the BKU once. Under his leadership, a huge movement was kickstarted in 2002 over cane prices. Three farmers were killed in police firing in these protest.
At the Kisan Mahapanchayat on February 25, all farmer leaders including Naresh Tikait paid homage to Diwan Chandra Chaudhary as well as the farmers killed in the 2002 agitation, Badri Prasad, Jugni and Tilak Raj. Tikait described Chaudhary as the right-hand of the farmers’ union in Purvanchal and also paid tributes to other towering farmer leaders of Purvanchal like Mukesh Chaudhary, Benimadhav Tiwari and Pateshwari Chaudhary. He said that it was the responsibility of the youth to galvanise the current movement which is inspired by their legacy.
The Mahapanchayat was addressed by national vice-president of BKU Balram Singh Lambardar, Mahendra Pal Singh Chauhan, state vice-president of the BKU’s youth unit Digambar Singh, Harnam Verma, Suresh Yadav and others.
Tikait said that the farmer community is hardworking and intelligent. “We will spread the movement from east to west and drive it with discipline. We do not have a personal enmity with anyone, but if someone is in the wrong, we will definitely correct them,” he said.
Tikait said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had cast a spell on common people in 2014 and swayed the popular vote in his favour. “Five years into power, Modi said that it took him this long to fix the deteriorated situation of the country. With this, he paved his way to victory once again in 2019. But do you see any improvement? After coming to power, he peddled beautiful dreams to farmers. In 2014, he had promised that if voted to power, his government will fix the price of sugarcane at Rs 450 a quintal. It has been seven years but the promise is not fulfilled yet.”
Commenting on the hike in the price of petrol and diesel, Tikait said that ever since the BJP came to power, the prices have shot up by Rs 55 and Rs 45 respectively but the price of sugarcane has stayed the same. “How will farming continue in such a situation?” he asks. “This government is bent on destroying farmers. If the prices of diesel and petrol have increased, why is the government not granting us subsidy? The government is charging Rs 40 as tax on diesel and petrol. Can’t the Centre and the state government reduce the tax for farmers by Rs 10 each?” he asked.
He narrated an anecdote. “One day a merchant comes to a village and announces that he will buy cats at Rs 100 each. The villagers catch some cats and sell them to the merchant. The next day another merchant arrives and announces that he will buy the cats at Rs 500 each. The villagers have no cats left. So, they begin looking for the first merchant who demands Rs 300 for each cat now. The villagers pay the amount and purchase the cats. But when they go to sell the cats to the second merchant, they can’t find him anywhere. The villagers then realise that they have paid an extra Rs 200 from their pockets to buy the very cats that they cannot even sell,” Tikait said.
“This is how the government is also stealing from us,” he added.
“They have a very dangerous plan. This government wants to do away with street vendors of vegetables, peanuts, and sweets. They intend to sell every item in malls and big shops at hefty prices. Flour will be sold at Rs 50 to Rs 100 in the malls and we will be forced to buy it. The government is also planning to make it mandatory for cattle owners to get an electrical connection of four horsepower.”
Tikait asked to be cautious of the law and its implications on contract farming. “The law states that once land is allotted to a party on paper, it will become their property. This is nothing but fraud. We have given our lands for development. We were told that we will be paid four times the price of the land which is acquired for development, but the farmers whose lands were acquired have been cheated,” he added.
The BKU leader alleged that the government is so afraid of the farmers that it erected concrete walls at the major farmers’ protest sites on the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh border and cemented the roads with two feet long iron nails. Calling it a dharma-yuddh (a war of principles), he said, “Today all the resources have been taken over by 31 industrialists…Many of them fled the country after siphoning off thousands of crores of rupees. You can see what these people will do to the country.”
He said, “The problem of power supply is worsening in Uttar Pradesh. In Haryana, the bill for tube-well usage is Rs 250 while in Uttar Pradesh it has touched Rs 2,000 or Rs 2,200. The state government claims that it is providing free irrigation facility to farmers even though irrigation from the canal was already free. It was not something initiated by the BJP government. This is how the people are being conned.”
“These are testing times. No one knows what will happen tomorrow. The government’s policy is absolutely wrong. Anything can happen to anyone, any charges can be levelled against anyone. But we must maintain peace and keep moving forward…Even after three months, the farmers’ morale is still high and further getting a boost. Farmers from all over India are looking up to our organisation.”
Tikait urged farmers to sever ties with BJP leaders, not to speak to them, turn away upon seeing them, and socially boycott them. “I am not asking for a lifetime ban on BJP MPs and MLAs, but stay away from them as long as the movement is going on,” he says.
He also criticised the prime minister over his “andolanjivi“ (one who thrives on protests) remark in the parliament and called it shameful and hurtful to farmers. “What is our fault? We made the country self-sufficient in food. We are only asking for a law on MSP. Make the MSP mandatory for all. Ours is a fight to save agriculture, to save the land,” he said.
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman.