‘Farm unions ready to discuss a law guaranteeing MSP with the government’
The poll pundits are watching which way the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) would tilt during the upcoming Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. In an interview with The Hindu, Rakesh Tikait, national spokesperson of the BKU, categorically stated that the union would remain apolitical and that he had no political ambitions.
“We are farmers and not into politics. Those who will work for their interests, farmers will elect them on their own,” he said.
There are indications that the U.P. government would increase the State Advisory Price (SAP) of sugarcane soon. Mr. Tikait said the BJP would try to distract farmers before the polls. “The party promised the rate of Rs.370 [per quintal] before the 2017 polls. Even if they increase the SAP after four years, the party has a lot to answer. Considering the inflation, the farmers would not settle for less than Rs.425 [per quintal],” he said.
Refusing to take credit for mounting the farmers’ movement in western Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Tikait said the BKU would continue to work as a pressure group to keep a check on the promises made by political parties to the farmers. “The movement has given an opportunity to Opposition parties to become the face of farmers. How will it pan out, I don’t know as I am not into vote-bank arithmetic. I have no political ambition,” he said.
Describing the ritual ceremony of former Rashtriya Lok Dal president Ajit Singh in Baghpat as a “social event”, he said political meanings should not be drawn out of his elder brother and BKU president Naresh Tikait’s presence at the event last week. “You will not see me sharing the political stage with Jayant (Chaudhary) or for that matter any political leader. We pay tribute to Chaudhary Devi Lal on his birth anniversary as well but that doesn’t mean we are politically aligned with the INLD.”
On the notion that the BKU cadre would put its weight behind the RLD, Mr. Tikait said there were many in the movement who would eventually vote for the BJP. “There are many who render all support to the movement but I know they will go with the BJP because of local pressures. If the government decides to increase the sugarcane price, it will benefit all farmers, not farmers of a particular caste or religion.”
However, he didn’t rule out the possibility of members of the Tikait family entering the fray. “I can guarantee only about my vote. I can’t assure you of even my wife’s,” he laughed.
From raising religious slogans to talking about pensions for personnel of paramilitary forces and permanent jobs for sanitation workers, Mr. Tikait, in his speeches, gives an impression that he is seeking space in the political arena. The movement, he said, had become like a train, where different bogies represent different social classes.
“The movement has given us a platform to reach out to them and foster social amity. The Constitution gives us permission to raise religious chants. After the Muzaffarnagar mahapanchayat, Muslim farmers tolled bells in temples. Can the BJP make them do this?” he said. “We have realised the Muzaffarnagar riots were sponsored by the BJP.”
Referring to the tension between Gurjars and Rajputs over Samrat Mihir Bhoj’s statue and the mahapanchayat called by Gathwala khap of Jats in Muzaffarnagar on Sunday, Mr. Tikait said the ruling party was at it again. “They have a specialised wing that works on dividing people, while we seek to mend ties,” he said.
Dalit, he contended, was a relative term. “For those living in the high-rise buildings, anybody who dirties his hands in the field is a Dalit. Those who raised questions about me resting in an AC tent share the same mindset.” Another good thing, he said, that the movement had brought about was the return of the youth towards the villages. “They have started taking interest in their ancestral lands. With employment opportunities receding, the land will at least feed them. The future looks bleak. I am appealing to the youth to shun bad habits like drugs and dowry and cut down on expenses in weddings and other rituals.”
The BKU spokesperson appreciated the government’s scheme to provide free ration to farm labour but cautioned that it should not be reduced to a vote-seeking measure. “The poor want jobs. They accept freebies but also know it is not going to last forever.”
Talks with govt.
Ahead of the first anniversary of the passing of three contentious farm laws, Mr. Tikait said farm unions were keen to talk if the government was ready to discuss a law that guaranteed the Minimum Support Price to farmers. “This government lies to the public. When they put the condition that the laws would not be revoked, we said as the farm laws are currently suspended, we could talk on the MSP law, but there was no response,” said Mr. Tikait.
On the practicality of the MSP law in a free-market economy, he said when the business houses could put a price tag on their products and the law backs it, why can’t farmers get even an assured minimum price on their produce. “The PM himself raised the demand of guaranteed MSP in 2011, when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat,” he said.
Meanwhile, social media is abuzz with his tweet to the U.S. President seeking his attention on the farmers’ movement. “India is not North Korea. It is not that I have introduced him to the issue. The world knows about farmers’ protests in India. The BKU has been against WTO’s policies in the past. Now, many multinationals, both Indian and American, are taking interest in agribusiness, which will affect the lives of farmers and farm labour. At a time when American companies are waiting for the seed Bill to be passed, the voice of farmers needs to be heard,” he said.
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