Lakhimpur Kheri: Is Rakesh Tikait's Deal With UP Govt 'Blood Money' or Tactics?
It would be inaccurate to view Rakesh Tikait's actions from the binaries of Opposition politics.
Protesting farmers are divided over Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait's 'intervention', which led to an end to the stand-off at Lakhimpur Kheri, following the death of at least eight people.
As part of the agreement between the two sides, the UP government agreed to give a compesation of Rs 45 lakh to the families of the farmers who were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri and a government job to one family member, and it also agreed to taking action against the 'culprits'. This was the result of closed door negotiations between Tikait and the UP government officials.
One section of the protesting farmers feel that Tikait gave in too soon and for too little. Another section asserts that this was a practical call taken by Tikait.
This article will look at both these sides and offer a perspective on how to view Tikait.
WHAT TIKAIT'S CRITICS SAY
Some supporters of the farmers' movement – such as Khalsa Aid founder Ravi Singh – have accused Tikait of taking 'blood money'.
"All Indian political parties will treat Sikhs as second class citizens when we seek justice! Why did Mr Rakesh Tikait accept blood money from the UP government for the 4 murdered Sikhs without seeking full justice? Terrible decision!" Ravi Singh tweeted.
This line of criticism was strengthed after the sister of one of the victims – Lovepreet Singh – said that her family "wants justice, not help".
The video of a Thar jeep mowing down protesting farmers surfaced a day after the 'deal' between Tikait and the UP government. A few from the side of the farmers also said that in light of the clear video evidence on how the farmers were mowed down by the jeep allegedly owned by Union Minister of State Ajay Mishra Teni, Tikait should have pushed harder in his demand for the minister's resignation and the arrest of his son Ashish 'Monu' Misra.
Tikait is facing criticism from another quarter — from Opposition parties that are questioning why the UP government allowed him to meet the victims' families, even as Opposition leaders like Priyanka Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Satish Chandra Misra, Bhupesh Baghel, Deepender Hooda etc were prevented from doing so.
WHAT TIKAIT'S SUPPORTERS SAY
Tikait's supporters offer broadly three arguments:
His intervention got a significant compensation for the victims' families which, they say, wouldn't have been this easy otherwise.
He helped prevent a crackdown on protesting farmers, especially given allegations that they had caused the death of BJP workers at Lakhimpur Kheri.
Tikait's 'deal' with the UP government was essential to preserve the farmers' movement from losing its focus as there were fears that the mobilisation would get concentrated on Lakhimpur Kheri.
WHAT EXPLAINS TIKAIT'S 'DEAL'?
A fundamental error would be to view Tikait's actions from the binaries of Opposition politics.
Tikait is not an electoral opponent of the BJP like the Congress or Samajwadi Party.
He also doesn't share the clear ideological opposition to the BJP that is characteristic of most of the Punjab-based farm unions or the Panthic outfits supporting the farmers' agitation.
Defeating the BJP is not Tikait's priority. It could be a possible consequence of the farmers' movement of which Tikait is a central part. But that's not his primary aim.
In fact, if the Modi government repeals the three farm laws, Tikait may not have any qualms supporting the BJP.
His primary concern isn't the electoral outcome but protecting the interests of his support base in Western UP.
To push these interests, Tikait may have sided with the BJP during the Muzaffarnagar violence and allegedly made communal speeches. And for the sake of the same interests, Tikait is now preaching communal harmony and chanting 'Allahu Akbar' and 'Jo Bole So Nihal' at rallies.
Tikait is not a messiah of anti-BJP politics. He hasn't even claimed to be one.
However, does that mean he's a 'sellout'?
From the perspective of the farmers' movement, no. Tikait is unlikely to back down from his demand for the repeal of the three farm laws because doing so would undermine his politics.
Tikait's 'deal' with the UP government needs to be seen in the context of his intervention after the 26 January violence at the Lal Qila.
At that time, Tikait's tears gave a fresh lease of life to the farmers' movement and prevented a possible crackdown on the protest sites.
Be it in January or now, one of Tikait's aims has been to prevent a 'Hindu vs Sikh' polarisation. There is immense grief among Sikh farmers at the Lakhimpur Kheri unrest, in which all farmers who were killed are Sikh.
Sources close to Tikait reveal that he feared an increased mobilisation from Sikh outfits in Punjab and a subsequent crackdown by the UP government and the Centre.
There is a sad reality behind this — mobilisation by Sikh farmers will always be seen with greater suspicion by the government and its allied media compared to mobilsation by Hindu Jat farmers like Tikait.
It must be remembered that after Operation Blue Star, all farm union activity was also banned in Punjab for eight years. In contrast, this was a time when Tikait's father – the legendary farm union leader Mahendra Singh Tikait – carried out some of his biggest protests in North India, including the famous protest at Delhi's Boat Club.
Tikait's aim is to keep the focus on farm laws and make a repeal seem like a practical thing for the BJP, rather than launch an all out war against the ruling party.
However, he may be overestimating the BJP's ability to see reason. On the other hand, he may be underestimating the grief among Sikh farmers at the Lakhimpur Kheri deaths.
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