Rakesh Tikait, leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, a key farm organisation behind the ongoing farmers’ agitation, celebrated his birthday on Friday with a vow to not rest until the three agricultural laws at the heart of protests were scrapped, but predicted the legislation would be gone by 2024. The laws will be withdrawn by 2024. It’s certain. In three years, the laws will go,” he said. The ruling National Democratic Alliance’s current term ends in 2024 when it will face the next Lok Sabha election.
Asked what made him so confident since the government has said it was willing to suspend the laws for 18 months, not repeal them, Tikait said: “Why will they not withdraw it? What do you mean by ‘no, it looks impossible’?” The farm leader, however, did not clearly state the reasons behind his assertion. Asked if he had any word with the government on rescinding the laws, he said: “No, we have talked to the public. The public will decide and the laws will go. The government will have to withdraw them.”
Tikait said he had talked to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath recently over the phone. “Yes, I talked to him over the phone. No meeting. In UP, there are arrears of ₹23,000 crore payable to sugarcane farmers. We raised these issues of pending sugarcane dues, and rising diesel and electricity prices that are hurting farmers,” Tikait said. “We will meet the (UP) chief minister when corona subsides,” he said. Thousands of farmers, especially from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, are demanding the rollback of three laws passed in September last year, mounting a political challenge for the Modi government.
Tikait has entrenched the protests firmly in his home turf, the politically crucial sugarcane belt of western Uttar Pradesh. The Tikaits belong to the Baliyan khap, a dominant clan among the Jat agrarian community in western UP, most of who are sugarcane growers. They voted overwhelmingly for the ruling BJP in the past elections. So far, 11 rounds of talks between 40 farm leaders and the government have failed to resolve the agitation. Both the government and farmers had called off the series of discussions on January 22, citing a lack of progress.
Under Tikait, the farmers’ protests have branched off into a regional uprising. He has built a groundswell of support for the agitation by raising local farm issues, such as the problems of sugarcane growers and growing cultivation costs, aside from the demand of scrapping the laws. The government has said the agricultural laws would spur investments and give farmers the freedom to sell their produce directly to large buyers in a sector that accounts for nearly 15% of India’s $2.9 trillion economies and employs half its workforce.
Farmers say the laws will threaten their livelihoods by forcing them to sell to corporate giants at poor prices instead of government-run markets, which offer assured prices. “The farmers’ agitation will not only impact but may well be a deciding factor in the UP’s state elections in 2022. The BJP claimed the agitation was limited to western UP but lost some key seats in Ayodhya, Varanasi and Gorakhpur in the panchayat polls,” said Sudhir Panwar, who teaches at Lucknow University.
On May 21, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a platform of farm unions leading the protests, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to resume dialogue to end the agitation. Reacting to the letter, farm minister Narendra Tomar had said since the farmers had rejected all the government’s proposals, they should come up with a new proposal before talks could be held.