Sitapur/Lucknow: Sukhveer Singh Virk feels that the decision to expand the canvas of the ongoing farmer’s protests in Uttar Pradesh (UP), keeping an eye on the next year’s Assembly polls, is giving “sleepless nights” to the Yogi Adityanath-led government.
One of the farmers participating in the Kisan Mahapanchayat held in Sitapur, barely 85 km from Lucknow, on Monday, Virk was seen sipping tea along with farmers from adjacent Hardoi and discussing how the Mahapanchayat travelled from western UP to Awadh after a long struggle.
Aiming to strengthen the protests against the farm laws in the Awadh region, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) organised the Kisan Mahapanchayat at RMP Inter College, in Sitapur district, months ahead of the crucial UP polls. The rally attracted an estimated 25,000-30,000 farmers from Sitapur, Shahjahanpur, Bareilly, Hardoi, Lucknow, Barabanki, Bahraich, Lakhimpur Kheri, Ballia and Pilibhit.
Surendra Kumar, a tea vendor, says the discussions at his shop are becoming livelier. “People regularly come to my shop in mornings and evenings to read newspapers. Political discussions are not new but now they are centred on the three agricultural laws and the prospect of political parties,” he says.
Demanding Rs 250 per quintal compensation to stop stubble burning, BKU’s Rakesh Tikait, an influential farmer leader, said, “If the district administration does not buy the stubble, the farmers should throw it outside the houses of SDM, DM, thanedar and patwari. We won’t let the harassment in the name of stubble burning continue anymore.”
Tikait, whose presence has apparently been a crowd-puller, attacked the Narendra Modi government and its economic policies. “The national assets have been put up on sale. Gradually, they are being sold to the private players, leaving no stone unturned to destroy the farmers. The exploitation by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government will only be exposed through Kisan Mahapanchayats,” he said.
Lashing out at Centre, the BKU leader further said, “Modi, not the BJP, is ruling the country. Several BJP leaders are against the Modi government but are afraid to speak at public gatherings. If needed, the BKU will also launch Mukti Abhiyan to rescue the BJP leaders from the clutches of Modi, who is not only anti-farmer but also anti-India.”
An SKM leader said, “Entire Uttar Pradesh has been influenced by the movement as it has impacted not only farmers but also labourers. After the movement gains momentum in Awadh and Purvanchal in next few days, it will be an uphill task for the Yogi government to tackle the challenge.”
At the protest site, fiery speeches, fluttering flags of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and other farmer bodies and a langar added to the charged atmosphere. Cries of ‘Kisan Ekta Zindabad’, ‘Har Har Mahadev’ and ‘Allahhu Akbar’ could be heard throughout the day with the coloured turbans of the protesting farmers adding to the vibrancy.
The spread of the protest to Awadh and Purvanchal is of special significance because there is no strong farmer organisation like in western UP. The farmers clapped when leader Jagtar Singh Bajwa said, “Aawara sarkar ko hata do, aawara pashu apne aap andar ho jayega. (Remove the government from power, the problem of stray cattle will be automatically end).”
The organisers are confident that the Sitapur Mahapanchayat would expand and strengthen the farmers’ movement in Awadh region. “In Awadh region, the majority of farmers have small or marginal lands. Despite slogging in the field, they cannot save their crops from stray cattle. If we hit the cattle, a case will be registered against us. The cowsheds are in pathetic condition. Our condition has become worse under the Yogi regime,” a farmer who came from Mishrik told Newsclick, adding that “instead of doubling the income of farmers, as promised in the election manifesto, the government has increased the prices of fertilisers”.
Arvind Lal, a small farmer, said that more than the three farm laws, it is the rising diesel prices and the problem of stray cattle that have made their lives miserable. “Stray cattle have become a menace. Besides, harassment in the name of stubble burning by the district administration is unbearable,” he says, adding these reasons have forced them to raise their voices for farmer issues.
“I am from a nearby village in Lakhimpur Kheri. Had the rally organisers campaigned properly, like they did in Muzaffarnagar, the number of participants here would have been one lakh.
Many people in our villages are not even aware that a Kisan Mahapanchayat is being held in Sitapur,” a farmer told Newsclick. The condition of farmers in Awadh or Purvanchal region is worse than their counterparts in western UP, he said, adding, “Neither we do have mandis like in western UP nor do we get proper prices for our crops. Such mahapanchayats won’t let the government sit in peace.”
IRON BARRICADES, ‘HOUSE ARREST’ ANGER FARMERS
A scuffle broke out between the protesters and the police when a large number of farmers in their vehicles from Hardoi district tried to enter Sitapur. A huge police force near the barricaded Bargadia check post, located on the Sitapur-Hardoi border, stopped the farmers from proceeding towards the venue. The scuffle, which started around 10 am, ended after 15 minutes when more farmers assembled at the check post and threatened to start a sit-in protest and were subsequently allowed to enter Sitapur.
More than half-a-dozen prominent local farmer leaders were put under “house arrest” a day before the event. However, the Sitapur police denied the allegations. BKU member Parkat Singh told Newsclick that police personnel were deployed outside his house at 7.30 pm on Sunday with the intention of preventing him from attending the rally.
“I gauged that their intention was to keep me confined to my house. Several other BKU members told me that police personnel were deployed outside their houses as well. After a heated argument, a few of the leaders were allowed to join the Mahapanchayat,” Singh said.
Mahinder Singh Chadhha, a farm labourer from Rudrapur in Uttarakhand, hitchhiked all the way to Sitapur to attend the rally. “I took lift from, at least, a dozen people, a truck, a tractor, a bike and even walked to reach here,” he told Newsclick.
Richa Singh, a key organiser and representative of Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangthan, said, “Ninety tractors with fifty farmers each reached Sitapur. The venue was occupied with farmers, labourers and women irrespective of their religion. It was surprising to see the huge turnout by women participants,” she told Newsclick.
Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar and social activist Sandeep Pandey too addressed the gathering and assured support for the farmers’ protest.
A group of MGNREGA workers carrying banners and placards demanded increase in wages, 120 days of guaranteed work and regularisation of employees were also spotted in middle of the ground. “The farmers’ movement has not only given a voice to the farmers but also labourers, including those enrolled with MGNREGA. We have to take a stand now because our survival is at stake,” MGNREGA worker Saroj told Newsclick.