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Agriculture

In Photos: At Muzaffarnagar Mahapanchayat, Protesting Farmers Vow to Take on BJP in UP

A distrust of the Union government's farm laws and the BJP have brought previously polarised agrarian communities together.

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Protesting farmers, who gathered in thousands in Muzaffarnagar on Sunday for a kisan mahapanchayat, have said that they will take on the Bharatiya Janata Party in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand assembly polls next year. Farmers also said they are calling a Bharat Bandh on September 27, to further their demand of repealing the three contentious farm laws.

“We have to stop the country from getting sold. Farmers should be saved, the country should be saved; business, employees and youth should be saved – this is the aim of the rally,” Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait said.

Other events are also planned in different UP districts.

Coming together after years of communal polarisation

In September 2013, Muzaffarnagar witnessed one of the the most gruesome Hindu-Muslim riots India had ever seen. The dominant Jats and the Muslim community – both intricately linked to the regional sugarcane crop-based land economy – broke their historical ties with each other. The incidents of sectarian violence forced thousands of minority Muslims to migrate out of their villages, dealing a heavy blow to the social make of the region, while Jats and other communities consolidated themselves purely on religious lines to keep the embers of communal strife alive.

The dramatic switch of western Uttar Pradesh from being a political landscape that was historically influenced by agrarian concerns and issues towards a faith-based polarised polity appeared to be permanent – until the recent farmers’ agitations over the controversial farm laws marked a groundbreaking shift in Hindu-Muslim relations.

The kisan mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar. Photo: Ismat Ara

Exactly eight years after the riots broke the communal chord in the region, Muzaffarnagar is witnessing the biggest-ever kisan mahapanchayat or a farmers’ gathering on Sunday, this time with Muslims and Jats participating as comrades-in-arms.

A few lakh farmers are estimated to be participating in the event, which, according to many observers, is also a show of strength. Coming at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has destabilised normalcy, the event – organised purely by voluntary efforts of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha – is reminiscent of how farmers through their huge demonstrations forced successive governments in the 1980s and early 1990s to acknowledge their demands.

The mahapanchayat is a continuation of the year-long farmers’ protests against the controversial farm laws, which the protestors believe would hand over their agrarian autonomy to corporate entities. However, the coming-together of the two inimical communities on one platform, which foregrounds their livelihood issues over their religious and caste identities, marks the event’s social and political significance, especially in the run-up to the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh early next year.

The kisan mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar. Photo: Ismat Ara

Ironically, a large part of the credit to bringing the two communities together in western UP should go to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which in the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots became the sole electoral beneficiary in the region. The near-brutal takedown of the farmers’ protests by governments led by the saffron party at the Centre and in UP triggered a wave of anger amongst the Hindu agrarian communities, and made them sit up and think about forging alliances across faiths.

The event may not permanently wipe out communal tensions in the region, but the protesting farmers definitely consider it as an important start to what may be a long process of healing. At the moment, a mutual distrust towards the BJP-led governments is what brings the agrarian communities together.

The kisan mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar. Photo: Ismat Ara