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Mahendra Singh Tikait: A doyen of farmer’s movement in India

Monday May 16, 2011 08:50:39 AM, Syed Ali Mujtaba

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Farmer 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 unique leader."

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 electricity rates.

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 road blockages.

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 demands.

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 agitations.

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 Indian state.

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 their honor."

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 farmers.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at




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