leader Tikait dies
Mahendra Singh Tikait, a prominent north Indian farmers'
leader and founder president of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), died
here Sunday morning, his family said. He was 76.
Tikait was suffering from bone cancer. The end came at his son
Rajesh's residence here.
The character of farmer’s movements
has been a matter of considerable debate since the 1970s and one
name that stands tall is Mahendra Singh Tikait a noted Indian
farmer leader from western Uttar Pradesh.
Called as the savior of farmers in
western Uttar Pradesh, Tikait died on 15 May 2011 due to
protracted illness from bone cancer. He was 76.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
condoled the death of BKU leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, saying he
was a unique leader who will be "deeply missed" in the years
ahead. Describing Tikait as a "fiercely independent" person, Prime
Minister said "he resisted the pull of politics all his life. His
work, his courage of conviction and his simplicity made him a
On 17 October 1986 Tikait formed a non-political organization
named 'Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU)' to protect the interests of all
the farmers of India, who form an overwhelming majority in the
population of the country.
Slow agricultural growth is a national concern as some two-thirds
of India’s people depend on rural employment for a living. Current
agricultural practices are neither economically nor
environmentally sustainable and India's yields for many
agricultural commodities are abysmally low.
Poorly maintained irrigation systems and almost universal lack of
good extension services are among the factors responsible.
Farmers' access to markets is hampered by poor roads, rudimentary
market infrastructure, and excessive regulation.
Poverty and lack of political power was a constant theme in the
discourse of the BKU leader Mahendra Singh Tikait who led a number
of mass farmer’s movements against the state and central
governments in India.
He also led many delegations around the globe in support the
rights of the farmers and worked in close cooperation with
international organizations like La Via Campesina, Farmers
Coordination Committee India.
Tikait mastered the art of mass protests and in October 1988,
Delhi got a taste of farmers’ fury when Mahendra Singh Tikait led
thousands of farmers to the heart of the Indian capital and
brought the city to a halt for a week. He succeeded in
highlighting the plight of farmers, who suffered as agriculture
itself became unprofitable.
Delhi protest’s inspiration came from his earlier 24-day siege of
Meerut city in Uttar Pradesh in 1987 seeking higher prices for
sugarcane, cancellation of loans and lowering of water and
The BKU received national attention in 1987, when its supporters
organized a 24 day siege of Meerut city in pursuit of higher
prices for Sugarcane, cancellation of loans and lowering of water
and electricity rates.
The two longest of his ‘satyagrahas’ came in 1988 when he led a
110-day protest in Rajabpur in Uttar Pradesh that led to police
opening fire to disperse the farmers on rail tracks and putting up
In 1992, he led thousands to a 77-day protest in Ghaziabad
demanding more compensation for land. Again in 1992, Tikait
reached state capital Lucknow with over 200,000 farmers to warn
the Uttar Pradesh government to concede the farmers’ demand for
higher sugarcane price together with heavy rebates in electricity
dues. The Janata Dal government buckled and agreed to bulk of the
In his lifetime, the septuagenarian had led at least 20 mass
protests and movements against state and central governments to
seek a better life for the farmers of north India and was arrested
10 times. He was arrested several times during the course of his
In 2006, around 100,000 farmers gathered in Mumbai during heavy
rains to protest against Government's WTO and anti-farmers
policies. On this occasion Tikait said, “It does not matter how
much it rains here. We will not stop our fight. The Government
will have to hear us. We need a change of Policies.” He released a
memorandum addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging to
keep agriculture out of WTO.
The BKU leader did not subscribe to the idea of rich and poor
farmers, saying all farmers are labourers...some are big laborers,
some are small. There is no rich farmer.
Tikait was famous for courting controversy. He was arrested and
later released on bail on April 2, 2008 for allegedly making
derogatory and caste based remarks against Uttar Pradesh Chief
Minister Mayawati at a rally in Bijnore on March 30, 2008. Almost
6000 men from the security forces had surrounded Tikait in his
native village and his arrest attracted considered media
attention. He later tendered an apology.
Burying the hatchet Chief Minister in his condolence message said:
"Tikait worked through out the life in the interest of farmers and
fought for their cause. His works will always be remembered."
The 76-year-old farmer leader’s views related to social issues
were archaic. Born in 1935 at Sisauli in Muzaffarnagar district,
Tikait, a Jat, inherited the leadership of Baliyan Khap (a
community association) at the age of eight.
As the head of the Baliyan khap, he presides over a system of
justice that is almost medieval and disdains the laws of the
His last formidable show of strength came in 2010, when he staged
a massive panchayat in Muzaffarnagar to oppose moves in favor of
intra-gotra (sub-caste) marriages.
The farmer community, largely dominated by Jats in western Uttar
Pradesh, is deeply wedded to their age old social tradition of not
allowing marriages within the same gotra of a particular caste.
Tikait dubbed same gotra marriages are incestuous; "No society
would accept it. Why do you expect us to do so? Incest violates
human dignity and villagers would kill or be killed to protect
Tikait also opposed love marriages and infamously remarked "Only
whores choose their partners." "Love marriages are dirty, I don't
even want to repeat the word...Only whores can choose their
partners," he said.
Irrespective to his social views, Tikait’s commitment to the
welfare of farmers and to rural India was deep and unswerving. His
work was a powerful influence across the country and inspired the
formation of many other organizations devoted to the cause of
Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at