Rakesh Tikait, farm leader whose tearful address revived Ghazipur protest, holds considerable sway among UP sugarcane farmers
The events of the past two days constitute a turnaround for Rakesh Tikait, the 51-year-old farmer leader who was earlier a constable with the Delhi Police
The farmers' protests in Delhi, which earlier appeared to be winding down after the violence on Republic Day, seem to have got a new lease of life at the Ghazipur border. The unexpected turnaround was partly caused by an emotional address to the media by Bharatiya Kisan Union national spokesperson Rakesh Tikait.
On Saturday, a mahapanchayat will be held in Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar to decide the union's future course of action. Nevertheless, crowds continue to swell at the Ghazipur border, two days after the local Ghaziabad administration had given an ultimatum to the farmers to end their protest.
The events of the past two days also constitute a turnaround for Rakesh Tikait, the 51-year-old farmer leader who was earlier a sub-inspector with the Delhi Police. As noted by The Indian Express, some farmers earlier believed that he was 'promoted' by the Centre to neutralise more aggressive farmers' unions from Punjab and Haryana. What appeared to further lend credence to this claim was Tikait's earlier statement that he had voted for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
However, farmers rallied behind the BKU spokesperson after the Ghaziabad authorities issued an eviction notice to him on Thursday. In an emotionally charged speech, a tearful Tikait said he would rather commit suicide than leave the protest site, as reported by The Times of India.
Soon afterwards, videos showing his outburst and exhorting people to stand by him began to be shared widely on social media. Subsequently, groups of farmers from Meerut, Baraut, Baghpat and Muradnagar reached the protest site at Ghazipur, reported India Today. As on Saturday morning, farmers are continuing to gather at the site, and the Delhi Traffic Police has closed both carriageways of the NH-24, to and from Ghaziabad and the Ghazipur border.
Who is Rakesh Tikait?
Rakesh Tikait is the de facto leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, although his official designation is that of the national spokesperson. His brother Naresh Tikait is the official president of the organisation.
Rakesh Tikait is one of the farmer leaders named by the Delhi Police in its FIR filed after the violence in Delhi on 26 January.
As noted by an article in The Telegraph, he enjoys the support of a large number of sugarcane farmers from western Uttar Pradesh. Farmers from the region had gravitated towards the BJP since 2014, but many are now resentful of the new farm laws, and fear that they will undermine their bargaining power over sugarcane procurement.
Tikait unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls on a Rashtriya Lok Dal ticket from Amroha, Uttar Pradesh, but failed to save his deposit.
Tikait was born in the Sisauli village of Muzaffarnagar on 4 June, 1969. He completed his MA degree from the Meerut University, and later also studied law.
His father, Mahendra Tikait, was one of the founders of the BKU, and is credited for making the organization a prominent voice of farmers in north India.