New Delhi: Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait’s breaking into tears, alleging that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, in “collusion” with the Uttar Police, had “conspired” to attack fellow farmers en route their villages after his impending arrest was the elixir that revived a thinning protest late last night. The Ghazipur Border, which had begun wearing a deserted look following the violence on January 26 in Delhi during the farmers’ tractor rally, has once again turned into a bustling village of sorts.
A large number of farmers from various villages in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab began pouring in at the Delhi-UP border after Tikait broke down. Slogans like ‘Kisan Ekta Zindabad’ (Long live farmers’ unity), ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ (Hail the soldier, hail the farmer) reverberated through the protest site on a chilly January 28 night.
Following the violence in the national capital on Republic Day, 22 FIRs were registered at different police stations in Delhi. Thirty-seven leaders from various farmers’ unions, which have been staging sit-in protests at five border areas of the capital, were booked under serious sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Tikati is one among them; he is facing charges of attempt to murder (307 IPC), rioting (147 IPC), among others. A look out notice bearing his name was also put out by the Delhi Police.
Soon after the cases were registered, developments began to pick up pace. The deployment of police forces were increased at all protest sites where peasants have been staging a sit-in since November 26, 2020, against the three contentious Farm Laws enacted by the Centre in September.
Since last morning, the possible eviction of farmers was seemingly immminent after the police dismantled makeshift tents and sheds. Ghaziabad Additional District Magistrate Shailendra Kumar Singh issued an eviction order under Section 133 (conditional order for removal of nuisance) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Section 144 of the CrPC was also imposed.
Contrary to media reports that the UP government had directed all DMs and SPs to end the farmers’ protests in the state, ADG Navniet Sekera, when asked to confirm, denied that any such order was issued by the district police from Lucknow.
At least 1,000 armed security forces personnel were deployed at the protest site. They included around three companies of CAPF (Central Armed Police Forces), six companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and 1,000 UP police personnel.
The electricity and water supply too were cut to the protest site and bio-toilets were removed by the district administration. The Delhi Police also increased deployment.
As the police presence increased, tension began mounting. Ghaziabad ADM, SP, IG (Meerut Range) and ADG met Tikait in the evening, Following the meeting, the BKU leader announced that he would call off the sit-in and that he would surrender to the police. A few minutes later, however, he again turned up on the stage and boldly declared that he would not surrender and that the protest would continue till the government withdraws the laws and gives a legal guarantee of a minimum support price (MSP). He urged people to join the protest in large numbers. He also claimed a threat to the life of his fellow farmers, alleging that armed goons led by two BJP MLAs were sent to the protest site.
“We wanted to court arrest peacefully as the law of the land is supreme and I am not scared of going to jail. I urged the district administration to arrange buses and ensure our safe return. But armed goons led by two BJP MLAs came here in collusion with the police and started beating the farmers here and creating a ruckus here. It seems there is a plan to stir violence when the protesters return. If there is any such plan, I will remain here. I will face the bullet but not leave this place. Our farmers are our family. The have given me a lot of respect. I cannot betray them. Their safety is my priority. Therefore, the protest will continue until the government repeals the three laws,” he said in a charged speech.
He alleged that the police administration and BJP leaders were indulging in hooliganism. “So far I did not utter even a word against the BJP, but they betrayed us. BJP MLAs are here. They are beating our fellow farmers. But no one here is a coward. We are brave people; we won’t give in,” he said, appealing to the protesters to spend the night in front of the stage.
Daring the alleged trouble makers, he said: “Shoot us; we will die here itself but won’t evict the place. BJP’s hooliganism won’t work. We are ready to face bullets and lathis. We won’t leave at any cost. I warn the BJP’s men, if you dare come here, you will be held hostage and the police administration will be held responsible.”
Tikait also threatened to kill himself if the police attempted to arrest any farmers participating in the protest. “If the police attempt to arrest anyone, I will hang myself here. But I won’t let the police arrest anyone,” he added. He said it was a people’s protest which could not be ended with guns or violence, but with dialogue. But the dialogue, he said, would only happen with the government, not the police.
“The UP police is trying to arrest the peaceful protesters. The SC has recently recognised our right to stage a peaceful protest. Despite the fact that there has been no violence at the Ghazipur Border, the government is adopting a repressive policy. This has exposed the UP government,” he alleged.
Later, taking to the media, he broke down. “This government wants to destroy the country’s farmers. I will not let that happen. After my arrest, the government and the police want to have my farmers — who have made this agitation into a massive one — assaulted by the goons on their way back. I cannot desert them. They are my family. Farmers from across the country have pinned their hopes on us. I cannot betray them,” said a sobbing Tikait.
The video proved to be a game-changer; as it went viral, hundreds of his followers gathered outside his house in Muzaffarnagar’s Sisauli village, shouting slogans in his and his late father’s (Mahendra Singh Tikait) support.
His elder brother Naresh Tikait, the national present of the BKU, warned that his brother’s tears would not go in vain. Sharing the video of Tikait weeping, he tweeted, “Chaudhary Mahendra Singh Tikait’s son and my younger brother Rakesh Tikait’s tears will not go in vain. There will be a maha-panchayat and we will not rest until this movement reaches its logical end.”
चौधरी महेंद्र सिंह टिकैत के बेटे और मेरे छोटे भाई राकेश टिकैत के ये आँसू व्यर्थ नहीं जाएंगे। कल सुबह महापंचायत होगी और अब हम इस आंदोलन को निर्णायक स्थिति तक पहुंचा कर ही दम लेंगे। pic.twitter.com/gSaqoi4xzk
— Naresh Tikait (@NareshTikait_) January 28, 2021
In another tweet, he wrote: “A mahapanchayat will be held tomorrow! Those who are threatening to arrest Rakesh Tikait must hear that they have to arrest every soldier of Baba Tikait, they have to arrest every farmer. Jai Jawan! Jai Kisan!”
कल होगी महापंचायत!
राकेश टिकैत को गिरफ्तार करने की धमकी देनेवाले सुन लें कि उन्हें बाबा टिकैत के एक-एक सिपाही को गिरफ्तार करना पड़ेगा, एक-एक किसान को गिरफ्तार करना पड़ेगा।
जय जवान! जय किसान! pic.twitter.com/zVgHOEWMk4
— Naresh Tikait (@NareshTikait_) January 28, 2021
Social media was soon flooded with appeals to join the protest in large numbers. As the message reached towns and villages, people from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Uttarakhand, riding tractors and other vehicles, left for the Ghazipur Border. Several batches have already joined the agitation and their numbers are swelling.
The security forces were withdrawn from the site post-midnight as the crowd began to increase. Police and administrative officers left the site, saying they had come to meet Tikait to inquire about his health. Water and electricity services were resumed.
NewsClick spoke to a few people who reached the protest site from neighboring districts.
Ankit Sehrawat from Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh said he had left for his village two days ago to take care of some work. “My wife alerted me to the viral video. She asked me to leave right away as Chaudhary Sahib (Rakesh Tikait) was in trouble. As I was preparing to leave I got calls from a few people who wanted to know if I was going. As I stepped out I found five vehicles with 30 people parked outside my house,” he said.
He said Tikait’s video had revived an agitation which was thinning. “After the Red Fort incident, people were disheartened. A large number of them have returned. But as the sequence of events unfolded, it turned out be orchestrated by the government. The police misguided farmers, who are not familiar with Delhi roads, and suggested the route to them – one that led to the Red Fort. Anti-social elements were planted in the tractor rally to create mayhem so that the peaceful farmers’ protest can be discredited. Now, those who have come and are coming will not go back till the laws are rolled back,” he added.
To protest against the water supply being stopped to the agitation site by the Ghaziabad administration, Tikait had begun a hunger strike, pledging that he would only drink water from his village. Farmers from neighboring villages brought water. “The protest will go on even if the government provides us with all facilities. We came here with water because our leader and fellow protesters are not faced with any problems. The government is asking us to vacate the road, we want to tell those in power that the land on which the road was constructed belonged to us. It was acquired at throwaway prices. So, its best the government shifted the road somewhere else instead of asking us to evict it,” said Rajesh from Ghaziabad.
A farmer from Haryana had come to the Ghazipur Border along with his wife and two young children. He said if this agitation failed there would not be any protest ever. “This is the last protest the largest democracy in the world is witnessing. If this fails, there won’t be any protest ever. This agitation is the only thing standing between absolute autocracy and an oligarchy and the helpless masses. The fefeat of our leaders will be the defeat of the entire farmers’ community. So, this battle has to be won,” he said.
He has a message for the common people who choose to keep mum and ignore the strike. “We are farmers, we will not sleep hungry because we know how to grow crops. These laws will impact everyone in this country. When prices of essential commodities skyrocket in the market, then you will realise what the farmers were fighting for,” he cautioned.
A young man from Ghazibad claimed he came to the protest site after watching the viral video, leaving his unwell daughter back at home. “If our leader is crying it means the dignity of the entire farmers’ community is at stake. Everything is now crystal clear. The government wanted this situation. It engineered the violence and caused massive damage to the agitation. Union leaders have been booked under severe charges. Their arrests are eminent. So, it is high time we raise our voice. If this agitation is sabotaged no one will ever dare to question the government and speak out against any injustice,” he added.
An elderly person, who has been camping here since the protest began, said he and others would not leave even if the police uses force. “If the police arrest our leader Rakesh Tikait, we too will fill the jails,” he said.
Holding flags of the Kisan Ekta Morcha, an umbrella body of striking farmer unions, and the tricolour, Gurudayal Singh, a resident of Lakhimpur in Uttar Pradesh, accused the government of spreading falsehoods. “This government always lies. I have not got my payment for sugarcane for a year. The debt I have is mounting. Farming is not profitable anymore for small farmers and now they want to take away everything from us,” he added.
The tractor parade on January 26, which was to highlight the demands of the farmer unions to repeal the three Farm Laws turned violent as tens of thousands of protesters broke through barriers, fought with police, overturned vehicles and hoisted a religious flag from the ramparts of the iconic Red Fort.
Clashes broke out in multiple places, leading to confrontations in well-known landmarks of Delhi and its suburbs, amid waves of violence that ebbed and flowed through Republic Day.