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Ghazipur: It has been two tiring days for Rakesh Tikait. The car ride from Ghazipur border to the Lucknow Mahapanchayat and back was over 1,000 kms after all.
But he is smiling, wearing his patent white kurta-pyjama, green cap and green gamcha and siting on straw chair with a purple canvas border inside his white and green tent when I meet him.
Having seen the massive turnout at Lucknow, I have several questions. Yet he is calm and jovial.
I ask him the first thing on my mind. The laws are now repealed, what happens next?
He looks at the visitors in the tent, and asks around, “What happens next?”
Then, he answers, “Our fight is not over, until MSP is given as legal right, farmers are not leaving.” There was jubilation in the room.
So have a handful of farmers bent the Narendra Modi government?
“When you defeat someone, they don’t run off the battlefield pleasantly, they at least curse and go, so its okay, we farmers don’t mind their words. We have done what we came to do. Modi should think of MSP now, not a handful of farmers,” Tikait replies curtly.
But what about the other demands?
Tikait wastes no time and says, “We have six demands. The SKM has already written a letter stating our demands to the government, but they [the government] refuse to talk. We are not having fun, spending a year on the roads. The government should tell people why it is not taking back cases against farmers, and honouring our martyrs. After all, the 750 dead farmers have sacrificed [their lives] for our nation, shouldn’t they be honoured and their widows compensated? The name of every farmer who died in PM Modi’s time will be written down and we shall keep their memory alive.”
He has more to say. “There are other issues too like the Seed Bill. It can bring the ‘seed police’ to India, so we want to save India from that too. Many issues are pending, the government should talk to us.”
Visitors in white shirts and trousers now enter the room, exchange “Ram Ram” greetings and take the corner seats.
Tikait breaks off for the greetings and continues, “See, earlier in our discussions with the government, they had agreed to take back the Electricity Amendment Bill, stubble burning (air pollution) bill and refused to talk on the MSP. Now farmers want MSP and the government should talk about it.”
Why stress on the MSP, and why should Modi pass the law on laws, I ask further.
“It is not only us, when Narendra Modi was Gujarat chief minister, he was also the head of a financial committee consisting of other chief ministers. He had submitted a report to the then PM Manmohan Singh saying, ‘Why have an MSP that farmers don’t get, government should make a law on MSP.’ Either the earlier report was a lie, or today Modi doesn’t want to implement his own findings,” he says.
Tikait pauses for a breath. “Today Modi is no longer the lawyer advocating for farmers’ rights but, in fact, the jury and judge. He is well aware of the evidence, as he had himself recommended it. We are only asking for its implementation.”
The visitors were listening intently and so was I.
But can farmers trust Modi’s word? He smiles, “The farmers aren’t going back to their villages without a “certificate” from the government. The laws need to be repealed in parliament. We are carefully watching the way they are repealed. Until we are sure, the farmers’ revolution will continue.”
Over the last year, farmers and the Modi government have had a huge trust deficit. Adding fuel to the fire, the government also has not made concrete moves to talk with farmers since January 26 and has used aggressive statements to discredit them.
Changing the subject to SKM, I ask what happens to the umbrella body’s future. Will it be a permanent body or dissolve?
“SKM will continue, India needs SKM right now. There are many farmers issues that need to be resolved, as we have written and said many times,” Tikait reminds us.
So will this body be political? Tikait’s opponents have alleged that the movement has political motives. Will Tikait contest an election?
“Why should I? Am I here to do politics? No way. We are here to get MSP and then we shall go back. All the people who have attacked the farmers are doing politics, not us,” he says.
The visitors are now impatient and an yellow clock is ticking. I sneak in one last question, what if Modi backtracks?
His face hardens and he says, “We haven’t packed our bags, have we? We aren’t going anywhere. Our andolan [movement] is a year-long movement. We will continue to raise our voices against the government. We will hold a meeting in every part of the country. And then the government has to tell the country that if MSP becomes a legal right will the farmers India gain or lose. The government will need to answer.”