“The farmers of Gujarat are not happy and they are suffering. It is time we did gherao in Ghandhinagar, blocked roads and if needed, broke barricades in Gujarat,” Rakesh Tikait, the firebrand leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), said in a statement to media in Ahmedabad.
Tikait, who was on a two-day tour in Gujarat on April 4 and 5, visited Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on April 5.
“Gujarat farmers too will take out their tractors and hold agitation in the state,” said the BKU leader as he met dalit leaders and members of the Aam Admi Party’s Gujarat unit later in the day.
Tikait then visited Karamsad in Anand, Central Gujarat, the native place of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and paid tribute to him along with Shankarsinh Vaghela, the former Chief Minister of Gujarat. Vaghela had joined him in Palanpur Banaskantha. Tikait was accompanied by senior Congress leaders at his next stop in Vadodara where he visited a Gurudwara before he finally left for Bardoli in South Gujarat for “kisan samvad” (farmers’ conversation).
The farmer leaders of Gujarat believe that Tikait’s presence in Gujarat has managed to give a fresh perspective to local farmers in the state who have been resisting land grab by corporate companies for a long time.
“Curbing protests and dissent by instilling fear through police and state administration has been a standing tactic of the Gujarat government. Each time farmers protest in Gujarat, they face house arrest, detention etc. In fact, farmers who were travelling from Bharuch to join the gathering called by Tikait in Bardoli, were stopped by the local police,” Dev Desai, a social and farmers’ rights activists told Newsclick.
“However, Tikait’s fiery speeches have had an impact on farmers of Gujarat. Farmers have expressed that Tikait should visit Gujarat again and tour North Gujarat and Saurashtra where small farmers are more in number,” added Desai.
Noticeably, after the BJP swept the local body polls recently, the party leadership had held that the win for the party meant that farmers are happy in the state. In the state elections of 2017, the ruling party had performed badly in Saurashtra region and tribal belts of Gujarat owing to anti-incumbency and agrarian issues and managed to win 99 seats. Congress had won 77 seats, the highest the party had won in 32 years. However, in the last four years, multiple Congress MLAs have switched to the BJP.
Tikait’s visit in Gujarat comes at a time when Assembly election is slated for next year and opposition Congress is still reeling from loss of its MLAs and demise of their senior leader Ahmed Patel.
Interestingly, apart from farmers, Tikait also received an overwhelming welcome from the tribal leaders of South Gujarat. While Praful Vasava, a tribal leader based in Narmada district, presented him with a symbolic bow, arrow and a flag representing the culture of the tribals, Bharuch-based tribal leader and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) supremo Chhotu Vasava expressed his support for Tikait in a tweet.
“If there is even a scratch on Tikait, we will come out on roads,” stated Praful Vasava as Tikait entered the stage set up in Bardoli.
Noticeably, Tikait’s arrival in Gujarat was surrounded by apprehension after the press conference organised by farmers in Ahmedabad last month was stopped midway by police on grounds of ‘not having permission’. BKU leader Yudhvir Singh, along with local farmers leaders of Gujarat, was detained by the Ahmedabad police.
On the day Tikait was to arrive in Gujarat, a large group of farmers from Gujarat and Rajasthan had gathered outside a food joint at Abu road in Mt Abu, Rajasthan, waiting for him in apprehension.
“We will not be sure that the programme will go as planned till he arrives and crosses into Gujarat,” said Palbhai Ambaliya, a Gujarat based farmers’ leader and one of the organisers of the programme.
As Rakesh Tikait arrived after a wait of about an hour, sounds of slogans filled the scene as farmers pushed through the crowd to garland Tikait and meet him. The farmer leader travelled for about two kilometres meeting people on the way to the first public meeting of his two-day tour.
“Farmers of Gujarat had to come out of the state to Rajasthan to meet me and protest. That says a lot about how free farmers are in Gujarat and how the Gujarat model functions,” Tikait hit out at Gujarat government even before he had entered the state.
The farmer leader who got an overwhelming reception by farmers in Gujarat, minced no words in his speeches while criticising the state government and the Gujarat amendment of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, which the ruling party has been using to acquire agrarian land in the state.
“Dar nikalna parega (you have to get rid of fear),” said Tikait in Palanpur, Banaskantha, while speaking to a crowd of farmers amid heavy police presence.
“I know Gujarat farmers fight for their land through court cases. But court will not save your land, joining the agitation will,” added Tikait as he appealed the farmers of Gujarat to join the agitation.