Tikait rises again on the political horizon

April 2nd, 2008 - 5:51 pm ICT by admin  

By Monobina Gupta and Rakesh Mohan Chaturvedi
New Delhi, April 2 (IANS) In 1988, urban India for the first time witnessed the might of Jat peasant leader Mahendra Singh Tikait when he filled the expansive India Gate lawns of the capital with thousands of his supporters from western Uttar Pradesh. And it was not just a one-day show of strength. The farmers camped out the whole week. They lived on the lush lawns, cooked their meals, and bathed in the shallow waters of the lake. The middle classes frowned at the chaotic disarray that broke out on the showpiece green lung of the capital. The government was at a loss to cope with the sudden avalanche of peasants in its well-ordered official district.

The man who had then virtually held the Boat Club under siege suddenly loomed large on the political horizon again this week - after a gap of almost two decades - after he used casteist slurs against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati at a farmers’ rally in Bijnor.

Tikait was arrested Wednesday in his political bastion Muzaffarnagar after two days of a well publicised standoff with the Uttar Pradesh government that had filed cases against him under the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Atrocities Prevention Act.

For the 73-year-old Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader it was a comeback of sorts to the political hub of Uttar Pradesh, a state in which, despite a large following at his beck and call, he has never been able to open an account in the legislative assembly.

In 1986, Tikait founded the BKU, a peasants’ organisation that primarily focused on sugarcane prices and later the introduction of genetically modified crops like BT cotton.

Ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Tikait’s son Rakesh started the Bharatiya Kisan Dal, the political wing of the BKU. He contested from Khatauli on a BKD ticket in the 2007 assembly elections and lost, despite tacit support from the Congress.

Tikait’s unmitigated failure in the polls has been baffling. After the death of former prime minister Charan Singh, the well-heeled and hardy Jat peasants of northern India looked up to Tikait as their leader. But when it came to casting votes, the electorate preferred Charan Singh’s son Ajit Singh, though he had less stature among the Jats.

Their electoral failure is all the more surprising in view of the fact that Tikait’s writ runs large in 75 constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh, which has a significant Jat community presence.

Even the demand for ‘Harit Pradesh’, a separate state carved out of western Utar Pradesh, has Ajit Singh as its focal point. Tikait, the publicly acknowledged face of the Jat peasants’ movements, has never really taken up the demand on a war footing.

The ongoing face-off between Mayawati and Tikait has made the BKU leader a much sought after ally of three major players in Uttar Pradesh: Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and the Congress.

Armed with this support Tikait may finally make a mark in the electoral politics of Uttar Pradesh.

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