New Delhi: The farmers’ protests have brought the focus sharply on one big ticket question: Where are the farmers’ leaders? India lacks a tall farmers’ leader even since the days of Sir Chhotu Ram, Chaudhary Charan Singh, Mahendra Singh Tikait, and others such as the Kisan Kesri Baldev Ram Mirdha (Rajasthan Kisan Sabha), Sahajanand Saraswati (All India Kisan Sabha) or N.C. Ranga (Swatantra Party).
However, the agitation has given a new lease of life to some leaders, a collection from which the Tikait brothers stand out. The politically inclined Rakesh Tikait lost his last election from Amroha in 2014 on an RLD ticket and the 2007 UP state polls from Khatauli on a Congress ticket, and also admits to having voted BJP in 2019. But, given the current mood, if he contests again, he will find his vote bank has greatly increased. In fact there is talk of him wanting to contest on an RLD ticket again but more on that later. Another leader who saw a brief lease of life was V.M. Singh, the former MLA from Pilibhit. However, after the 26 January fiasco he has distanced himself from the Tikait brothers and prematurely withdrew from the agitation much before it is over. A third name that comes to mind is Ajay Vir Jakhar, who still retains credibility with the Punjab farmers. The grandson of late Balram Jakhar is also the chairman of Punjab’s State Farmers Commission and has been an articulate advocate for the farmers, especially in this fight against the reform laws. That the Congress is one party that still has some political credibility amongst the farmers of Punjab was made very clear from the results of the state municipal polls held recently. Outside Punjab is another story for the Congress, though Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, has been attending her share of mahapanchayats in the Hindi heartland. Apart from Priyanka, other Congress leaders who have been extending vocal support to the farmers are both the Hoodas in Haryana and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan. Again, where the Hoodas have gained, Dushyant Chautala has lost by being part of the BJP-led government in the state; a government that supports the farm reform laws.
This brings us to the RLD and clearly the one political party that has gained credibility with both the Jats and the farmers in the Jat belt of Western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan is Chaudhary Charan Singh’s party. In fact, we suddenly see “Chaudhary Sahib’s” posters all over this belt, and since the Jats control as many as 40 Lok Sabha seats in these three states, it is not a small number. Interestingly, the face of the party and one that is seen addressing many mahapanchayats and being welcomed by the farmers is his grandson and vice president of the RLD, Jayant Chaudhary. It is clear that Jayant not just resembles his grandfather physically, but is fast emerging as the true inheritor of his legacy in the political sense as well. He was there with the agitating farmers from Day One. Initially, his support was limited to providing logistical back-up in terms of supplies and food but of late he is seen to be leading from the front. As more and more cries of Chaudhary Sahib are heard at the mahapanchayats, this is one person who is there on ground to take the legacy forward. Interestingly, Charan Singh’s 118th birth anniversary (23 December) is also observed as Kisaan Diwas and was celebrated as such by the protestors. Initially the government tried to prevent Ajit Singh and family from visiting Charan Singh’s samadhi in the capital on that day but had to relent later. As mentioned earlier there is talk of Rakesh Tikait contesting the next polls on an RLD ticket.
Hence, at a time when the focus is firmly on the reform laws and the issue threatens to engulf the UP elections in 2022, the one political party that has gained a lot of lost credibility with the farmers is the RLD. Will Jayant Chaudhary be able to take this momentum forward and gain political ground—not just in Western UP, but also amongst the Jat voters in Rajasthan (where there is a 20% Jat vote) and Haryana is the key question. Certainly the moment is right, and wearing an “Andolan Jivi” badge on his kurta, Jayant seems geared up for it.