Tikait, a farmers` leader who mastered the art of mass protests

In October 1988, Delhi got a taste of farmers` fury. Mahendra Singh Tikait led thousands of farmers to the heart of the Indian capital and brought the city to a halt for a week.

Updated: May 15, 2011, 21:00 PM IST

New Delhi: In October 1988, Delhi got a taste of farmers` fury. Mahendra Singh Tikait led thousands of farmers to the heart of the Indian capital and brought the city to a halt for a week.

Tikait, who died Sunday at the age of 76, hit the headlines after the Delhi protest. He succeded in highlighting the plight of farmers, who suffered as agriculture itself became unprofitable.

Tikait mastered the art of mass protests and founded the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).

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.

But 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.

Even if the Jat leader was not in BKU, he would still have been a leader in his own right, having inherited the chieftainship of Baliyan Khap (a community association) as its `choudhary` (leader) at the age of eight.

Tikait was born in 1935 at Sisauli village in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh.

Tikait was a title his family was conferred with by Raja Harshavardhana, the ruler of Thanesar, in the seventh century.

The mass leader also courted controversies during his later years.

He was arrested, but released on bail, for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati in 2008.

It took a contingent of 6,000 armed policemen to lay a siege around his village to arrest him. He later tendered an apology.

Before getting slowed down by disease and old age, his last formidable show of strength came in 2008, when he opposed marriages among same `gotra` (sub-caste).

He had the support of the farmer community, largely dominated by Jats in western Uttar Pradesh and still deeply wedded to their medieval social tradition of not allowing marriages within the same gotra.

And Tikait rose up to even oppose the Supreme Court for holding such marriages valid.

"We live by a moral code where honour has to be protected at any cost. Same-gotra marriages are incestuous, No society would accept it. Why do you expect us to do so? Incest violates `maryada` (honour) and villagers would kill or be killed to protect their maryada," he said in a TV interview.

Tikait, as choudhary of the Baliyan Khap, declared that "love marriages are dirty...only whores can choose their partners".

PTI