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Agriculture

Baba Gulam Mohammad Jaula's Vision of Hindu-Muslim Unity Will Always Inspire

The legendary farmers' leader from western Uttar Pradesh always had his hand on the pulse of the people.

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“They used to chant ‘Har Har Mahadev’, I added ‘Allahu Akbar’ to the slogan. The two, together, became the most potent slogan of Bhartiya Kisan Union.”

Instinctively, this is the first memory that comes to one’s mind when one remembers Baba Gulam Mohammad Jaula, legendary kisan leader from western Uttar Pradesh. Baba passed away on May 16, 2022. He was considered the late Mahendra Singh Tikait’s right-hand man in the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU). It is no surprise, and perhaps destiny couldn’t have played out in any other way, that Gulam sahab passed away just a day after Tikait’s death anniversary.

There are all kinds of stories that float around in western UP about how the two legendary leaders had brought the authorities to their knees when sugarcane farmers went on strike. In an era when social media didn’t exist, and mainstream media rarely traversed the rugged landscape of west UP, most of these stories are nuggets of history passed on orally. While the 1989 Boat Club andolan in Delhi is known nationally, many more such tales dot the dense sugarcane fields of west UP.

One such story was that during a strike, the Muzaffarnagar collector went to meet Baba Gulam Mohammad Jaula to try and enter an agreement. On reaching his village, Jaula, he was directed to the fields where Baba was waiting for him. The collector trudged through the sugarcane fields in the summer heat to find Baba working. “Sit,” said Baba, pointing to the ground. Unlike tradition, there were no chairs in the field to welcome collector sahib. “Sit on the ground, in this heat, and experience the effort farmers have to put in, before you decide on their fate.”

Whether true or exaggerated, each story speaks of upholding the dignity of sugarcane farmers in the region.

The sugarcane districts of west UP have a large Muslim population. Many among the dominant castes of both religions are farmers and landowners. Both Babas, Tikait and Jaula, were aware that for any successful farmers’ movement in the area, the unity of both major religions was key. Not only did the legendary slogan ‘Har Har Mahadev, Allahu Akbar’ become integral to the union, but on many occasions BKU swung into action when they suspected that an incident could disrupt religious unity. One notable incident was when Baba Tikait sat on hunger strike when a Muslim girl in the region was kidnapped. This incident is locally popularly referred to as ‘Naima kaand’. The hunger strike swung the police into action and the girl was soon rescued.

It is hardly a surprise, then, that Gulam sahab was crestfallen after the 2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. The riots tore through the fabric of west UP and Hindu and Muslim peasants became sworn enemies. What was more distressing for many was that the platform of the BKU was used for the mahayapanchayat in September 2013 that led to the violence. In that infamous mahapanchayat, BJP leaders pretty much hijacked the BKU platform. The ensuing violence continues to leave west UP scarred.

“I gave the slogan ‘Allahu Akbar to Har Har Mahadev’ to the union. Now only ‘Har Har Mahadev’ remains. In fact, not even that, only ‘Har Har Modi’ remains. What role do we have left in the union?” Gulam sahab said to me when I was interviewing him for my film, Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai… (Muzaffarnagar Eventually…) soon after the riots.

Watch: Meet the 85-Year-Old Farmer Who Coined the Slogan ‘Har-Har Mahadev, Allah-Hu-Akbar’

The unthinkable had happened after the 2013 riots. The BKU split on religious lines. Baba Gulam Mohammad Jaula started his own union, Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Manch (BKMM). “Yeh 35 biradri ki union hai. Jat ke ilaawa sab (This is a union for 35 communities. For everyone except Jats).” Was he happy about the split? “No,” he replied candidly, “but they have left us with no option.” However, what never betrayed Baba was his optimism. “Jats are essentially a secular community. In many villages where we didn’t have mosques, Jats themselves raised money and got our mosques constructed. Fiza phir badlegi (Things will change again). It’ll take about four or five years. Jats too realise their mistake. They too want to come back. It’ll take a few years.”

This was not just a prophecy in thin air. This was Baba Gulam Mohammad Jaula’s understanding of the land that made him. It was symbolic of how he always had his ear to the ground. His hand was always on the pulse of the people. He knew his people. ‘His people’ were not just Muslims, but all farmers of the region.

Sure enough, Baba proved to be correct. About five years later, there were many small panchayats which saw Hindu and Muslim farmers of western UP come together.

But the most prominent moment of the unity was in late January 2021, during the historic kisan andolan that took place on Delhi’s borders. On January 29, 2021, a historic mahapanchayat took place in Muzaffarnagar. Several thousands attended that panchayat, Hindus and Muslims.

Among the key speakers at the panchayat was Ghulam Mohammad Jaula. He minced no words. “The two biggest mistakes you’ve made so far,” he said, “are one, you got Ajit Singh defeated, and two, you killed Muslims.” Interestingly, there was no booing, no attempts at shutting him up. There was pin drop silence, introspection. Baba made a clear assertion, that unity can’t be a compromise. There has to be an acceptance of guilt. An acceptance that you were wrong in the way your Muslim brothers were treated. Many Hindu Jat leaders on stage that day, and subsequently, accepted guilt.

At the historic kisan mahapanchayat on September 5, 2021, exactly eight years after the mahapanchayat that led to the riots, Baba’s frail health was showing and he told Rakesh Tikait that he was too weak to make a speech. But he asked Rakesh to ensure that the famous slogan was chanted once again. And Rakesh didn’t disappoint, ‘Allahu Akbar, Har Har Mahadev’ reverberated across Muzaffarnagar.

While the BJP may have won the ensuing UP elections comfortably, the sugarcane belt, which was most strongly affected by the farmers’ movement (and also by the riots), saw the BJP perform badly.

Given his ill health, Jaula sahab’s public appearances began to reduce. But his presence was felt at every kisan panchayat. His dream of Hindu-Muslim unity may have only been partially realised in west UP, but his vision and his spirit will always inspire.

Nakul Singh Sawhney is a filmmaker. His films include the critically acclaimed  Izzatnagari ki Asabhya Betiyaan, on crimes and killings in the name of honour, and Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai, on the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal violence.