“The story of the Bharatiya Janata Party is over,” said Upendra Tomar, 50, a farmer from Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat who is now protesting against the new farm laws at the Ghazipur border. To emphasise the point, Upendra drew a cross in the air with his finger. “Everything has an end. This andolan is their end.”
The Ghazipur farmer protest on Sunday, January 31, resembled an agitation and a thoroughfare. Apart from the farmers, families from Delhi, Noida and Ghaziabad strolled around with their children, sporting badges in support of the farmers and eating food and sweets prepared by the protesters.
In the last few days, the number of protesters at Ghazipur have been higher than they’ve ever been since the start of the protest two months ago. The crowd had shrunk significantly , when a crackdown by the Uttar Pradesh government seemed imminent, but went back up after an odd event.
On the evening of January 28, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait had an before the media. As dozens of uniformed men stood guard near the Ghazipur protest site, a teary-eyed and clearly exasperated Tikait told journalists that the protest against the new farm laws would not end.
The video blazed through western Uttar Pradesh and, within hours, farmers – mostly Jats – entered Ghazipur in a show of support.
On January 31, the protesting Jats told Newslaundry that they plan to vote out the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Assembly election next year. Near the stage, under the expressway, and outside the makeshift kitchens, they reiterated that the saffron party had engineered a rift between Jats and Muslims in western Uttar Pradesh, did not pay farmers for their produce, hiked electricity and fertiliser rates, and ushered in social discord and agrarian distress.
Taunts by BJP leaders and ministers and sections of the media – calling the farmers “anti-national”, “Khalistani” and “terrorists” – further embittered the landowning community, which believes that it has more patriotic credentials than those in power.
“Ninety-five percent of people here voted for the BJP in the 2017 Assembly election,” said Prince, 24, a farmer from Moradabad. “They are all miserable now. The BJP is not coming back. Their reign was a deception.”
The protest against the new farm laws at Ghazipur outside Delhi.
Upendra Tomar, a farmer from Baghpat, at the Ghazipur protest.
‘Farming has regressed in western UP’
Pramod Ahlawat, a sugarcane farmer from Bhaisi village in Muzaffarnagar, told Newslaundry that the Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh has stymied the growth of India’s sugar bowl region.
“The average income of farmers has not increased in four years,” he said. “But the rate of pesticides and urea fertiliser has increased, and the weight of NPK fertilisers has fallen from 50 kg to 45 kg. Voting for the BJP government has been our generation’s greatest regret.”
Narender Singh, 51, hails from Shahjatpur village in Amroha, which he claimed now bears a no-entry sign for BJP members at its entrance.
“The BJP’s end is not something that will happen in the future. In western Uttar Pradesh, it has already happened,” Narender declared. “Farming as a profession has regressed so much in the region that we are here, protesting under open skies, away from our families.”
Narender believes the state government’s agenda to has been a recipe for disaster. “Earlier, we would sell the cows for a sum of money,” he said. “But after the slaughterhouses closed, these animals had nowhere to go. The government has not built enough cowsheds, as it promised, and so, the animals stray and destroy our crops.”
Baghpat-based farmer Rampal Singh, 72, shared Narender’s concerns.
“We spend the entire day working on the fields and the entire nights warding off the cows,” he said. He pointed at a cluster of young men sitting a few metres away. “It is also the case with our sons; they do nothing but loiter. They should have gone to work, and the government promised two crore jobs, but what came of it?”
Exasperated, he added: “We took an axe to our feet by voting for the BJP.”
Sugarcane farmers from western Uttar Pradesh also pointed to the government’s lax enforcement of the Sugarcane Control Order of 1966, which directs sugar mills to pay farmers within 14 days of crushing.
“We have not been paid for our produce since a year,” claimed Viraj Tomar, 38, a sugarcane farmer from Baghpat and a member of the district panchayat. “The Malakpur mill in Baghpat last paid us on March 4, 2020. Over that, the Yogi government has not increased the rate of sugarcane in three years.”
Additionally, Viraj said, their electricity bills under the Adityanath government has increased three to four times. “Every other government paid us better than Yogi, including the Samajwadi Party government that came before him,” he said.
The Sugarcane Control Order stipulates that mills which do not pay farmers within 14 days have to shell out interest over the remunerative price. Yogender Singh, a farmer from Amroha, told Newslaundry that even though he was recently paid for his sugarcane crops after a year-long delay, the mills did not pay him interest.
He said: “I make some Rs 8,000 a month now through farming. In good times, that used to be the monthly pay of a labourer in my farm.”
‘BJP won because of the Muzaffarnagar riots’
Jats at the Ghazipur protest told Newslaundry they have seen through the BJP’s “divide and rule” politics in western Uttar Pradesh. The communal riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, which killed 62 people including 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus, is viewed by protesters as an event orchestrated by the saffron party for electoral gains.
Yogendra Singh (extreme left), a farmer from Amroha, with fellow protesters at Ghazipur.
Shikhar (second from left) and Vansh (centre) from Moradabad at the Ghazipur protest.
“They won power because of the Muzaffarnagar riots, setting Hindus against Muslims,” said Pramod Ahlawat. “They did the same to Jats and other castes in Haryana. Now, they tell us that they’ll build temples. When we wake up every morning, do we go to our jobs and or to temples?”
In his district, Pramod said, the two communities came together for an anti-farm law rally at the Government Inter College on January 29. “When the BJP wave arrived, all bigwigs got carried away,” he said. “Their appeal resides in the ability to lie as if they are telling the truth. Our member of parliament, Sanjeev Balyan, won because of that hate politics. But the Jats have understood. We would rather not vote than vote for the BJP.”
Baghpat’s Upendra Tomar admitted that Jats had been “misguided” and “taught untoward lessons” by the BJP. “But the cracks between Jats and Muslims have now closed. Even the Dalits are with the farmers. Their leader, Chandrasekhar Azad, supports us,” he said, adding that the farm laws had been “imposed” on farmers in the same way that the Citizenship Amendment Act had been “imposed” on Muslims.
Surveer Singh, 50, a farmer from Amroha, told Newslaundry that because of the common economic interests between Jats and Muslims in western Uttar Pradesh, the farmer protests have “bonded them automatically”. This logic has seeped into the consciousness of Ghazipur’s protesters; they frequently tell journalists that they are not Hindu farmers or Muslim farmers, just farmers.
As a proof of their solidarity with Muslims, the Jats pointed Newslaundry towards a langar setup called “Muslim bhaichara” at the protest, which distributes saffron rice among protesters every day, and a barber shop farther away that provides free haircuts and shaves.
Vansh and Shikhar, both 20 from Moradabad, attributed the rise of communal attitudes in their part of Uttar Pradesh to their “uneducated” elders.
“When we entered Delhi on January 26, Muslim residents welcomed us with fruits and flowers,” Shikhar said. “The Hindu-Muslim issue is the BJP’s contribution to western Uttar Pradesh. We will not be misguided like our elders. We are educated men, not the rioters this government and the media want us to be. We made the mistake of voting for the BJP once, we won’t make it again.”
When I asked Baghpat’s Rampal Singh about the future of Jat-Muslim relations in western Uttar Pradesh, he promptly pointed at Mohammad Rasheed, 73, a fellow protester from his village.
“He cooks the food we eat. We sit together all day,” he said. “The trolley next to ours belongs to Muslims from our area. The BJP government has only sown division and lectured us on religion. Now that they have waged a war on farmers, they will be destroyed.”
All photos by Ayush Tiwari.