The Samyukt Kisan Morcha—the steering body of 40 farmers’ organisations spearheading the movement against three anti-farmer laws passed by the Union government—organised a Kisan Mahapanchayat (grand farmers’ assembly) attended by over two million farmers, in western Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar, on September 5th 2021. The SKM is also organising another Kisan Mahapanchayat at Karnal, Haryana, on September 7th 2021, to amplify its demands. These Kisan Mahapanchayats are causing serious ignominy for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Though a few of the mainstream media houses covered the Kisan Mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar, their stories either vilified the farmers as “roadblocks” to Modi’s planned reforms or dealt with the issue of how these farmers will reshape the politics of BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, which will go to polls in six months. They didn’t talk about, or carefully ignored, the powerful socio-political engineering done by the Kisan Mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar, which shows a reversal of the Hindutva-incensed communal tide brought by the BJP and its parental body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in entire western Uttar Pradesh.
Famous for its sugarcane cultivation, the Jat community-dominated districts like Meerut, Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, etc, became hotbeds of communal and vicious politics since 2011-12. In 2013, Muzaffarnagar witnessed its goriest communal violence, when an anti-Muslim pogrom was organised by the RSS and its affiliates by provoking the Jats against Muslims using fake news and bush telegraphs. The leitmotif ‘love jihad’, used by the RSS-led Hindutva fascist universe to hysterically project any romantic relationship between a Muslim man and a Hindu woman as a part of a purported plot to convert the latter to Islam and change demography, was conceived and first implemented as a strategy to mobilise Hindus against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar.
The success of the 2013 anti-Muslim pogrom in Muzaffarnagar, which killed around 62 unofficially and evicted thousands of Muslims from their homes, propelled Modi’s rise in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP managed to showcase itself as a “protector” of Hindus from an alleged “Islamic” plot to occupy India. Muzaffarnagar had gulped the bait and, soon, the entire western Uttar Pradesh turned into a laboratory for the RSS. The splitting of the Jat community on religious lines, pitting the non-Muslim Jats against the Muslim Jats (Mullah Jats), helped the RSS and the BJP in several ways.
Firstly, it was through the 2013 Muzaffarnagar Mahapanchayat, attended by non-Muslim Jats of the region, that the BJP managed to oust the Muslims from their homes, turning them incommunicado. This severed the socio-economic ties between the Hindu Jats and Muslim Jats in the region and also strategically placed the ostracised Dalit community against the Muslims.
Secondly, due to this segregation, the farmers’ body Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), formed by legendary farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, also saw a vertical split, with one section of it turning into a BJP appendage under the leadership of Rakesh Tikait and Naresh Tikait, the late farmer leader’s sons, and the other, with a very few members, retaining the old secular character of the organisation.
If the Muzaffarnagar anti-Muslim pogrom helped someone economically, then it’s the sugar mill owners’ lobby. The united Jat farmers posed a serious threat to the sugar mill owners as their collective bargaining power under the BKU was high and they could agitate en masse demanding a hike in prices of sugarcane or for the clearance of past dues.
With the BJP’s advent in the region, following the Muzaffarnagar anti-Muslim pogrom in 2013, the BKU was weakened. The BJP-RSS wooed the Tikait brothers and used them as baits to lure the non-Muslim Jats away from the fold of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the political outfit Jat farmers voted for years. With a weak BKU, splintered after the communal pogrom, the sugarcane farmers stood no chance to bargain like before and couldn’t force the sugar mill owners to pay their past dues.
As per the government’s data, the total pending sugarcane dues to farmers on February 28th 2021 was Rs 229bn. Out of this 60% of the dues, Rs 136bn, was from Yogi Adityanath-ruled Uttar Pradesh. This figure later rose. The BJP came to power in 2017 promising that it will ensure payment to farmers in 14 days and clear past dues of the Samajwadi Party era within 120 days. However, the dues kept piling up, resulting in public interest litigations. Forget the dues, even the state-advised price (SAP) didn’t change in the last three years.
Though a request for information (RTI) filed with the state government by India Today revealed that the government has ensured 100% payment for sugarcane in 2018-19 and 2019-20, a National Herald report shows that the farmers of Uttar Pradesh aren’t paid in 2020 and have got ‘zero price’ receipts for 2021. Later, driven by the fear of the farmers’ movement against Modi’s farm laws turning into a catastrophe for the BJP in the 2022 elections, the Yogi regime decided to clear 75% of the sugarcane dues, worth Rs 260bn, in August 2021.
What made the BJP hasten the payment of dues? Mere electoral compulsions? Or is it the new political equation that’s threatening its Hindutva fascism-driven communal polarisation in western Uttar Pradesh? When the Uttar Pradesh government gave an ultimatum to Rakesh Tikait to remove his camp from Delhi’s Ghazipur border, following the macabre state atrocities against the farmers’ tractor rally on January 26th 2021, he pulled an emotive tug to bring together the fragmented Jat community against the BJP for which he and Naresh had worked.
Following Tikait’s appeal in January, hundreds of thousands of Jats assembled at the Ghazipur border and reinvigorated the movement. Mahapanchayats were held throughout western Uttar Pradesh and Hindu-Muslim unity was re-established by Tikait and the BKU, forcing the BJP to retreat. In many Mahapanchayats, the Jat farmers gave calls to boycott socio-economically those associated with the BJP, ruining the party’s scope in the region. Even after losing the village-level Panchayat elections recently, the BJP wrested control of the block and district seats by unleashing terror on the Opposition. But it can’t simply terrorise the Jats and win the 2022 polls in western Uttar Pradesh.
On September 5th, at the Kisan Mahapanchayat, Tikait raised the old BKU slogan, Allah Hu Akbar – Har Har Mahadev, coined during his father’s era, which represented Hindu-Muslim unity. The RSS forced the Tikaits to drop the slogan in 2013. Raising the slogan again, amid an environment of Islamophobia, proves that now, after eight years, the winds are turning harshly against the BJP-RSS, as the farmers are uniting against its divisive policies. The Tikait brothers have switched allegiance and the BJP now realises the threat posed by the farmers to its hegemony.
Moreover, the SKM announced it will campaign to end Modi-Yogi’s reign\and will organise 17 mega rallies against the farm laws throughout Uttar Pradesh, especially in the BJP’s strong bases in eastern Uttar Pradesh. The SKM’s agitation, coupled with the “No Vote to the BJP” campaign, in West Bengal helped Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) to defeat the BJP despite its high-decibel and toxic campaigning. If the same template is used, at least in rural Uttar Pradesh, the farmers’ discontent can be lethal for the Yogi regime.
The Kisan Mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar throws a stiff challenge to the BJP-RSS. The Hindutva camp can fight back only using quintessential communal propaganda, hate-mongering, promoting genocide of Muslims and polarisation. The rise of the toxic Hindutva advocates like Yeti Narsinghanand in Ghaziabad, the rise in incidents of hate crimes against Muslims and the demonisation of farmers by the mainstream press are all signs of the BJP’s 2022 strategy. The SKM has warned the farmers of the BJP’s conspiracies and asked them to refrain from joining the saffron fold should any communal violence breaks out.
From a confident party sweeping one after another election with huge margins, the BJP has started facing the people’s resentment everywhere. The Yogi regime’s frantic attempt to woo back the farmers, using baits, isn’t working anymore. If not sounding the death knell of corporate-feudal nexus-funded Hindutva fascism, the SKM-led Kisan Mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar at least paved the way for the farmers to defeat the BJP’s Yogi regime organisationally and electorally in Uttar Pradesh.