BJP workers, ‘love jihad’ vigilantes, and a Bengali wannabe revanchist.
On December 28, two days before leaders of the farmers protesting for the new farm laws to be repealed were set to meet the Narendra Modi regime’s ministers to discuss their demands, Narendra Singh Tomar tweeted out a letter in support of the new laws. It was from Rashtriya Yuva Vahini, the agricultural minister said. To hammer home the point of publicising it Tomar appended to his tweet the hashtag “FarmersWithModi”.
Tomar went on to share 12 such letters that his ministry had received from leaders of “farmer organisations” at a function in Delhi that day. They all supported the Modi government’s position that the three new farm laws, enacted without much parliamentary scrutiny, would reform the agriculture sector for better and benefit farmers across the country.
Most farmer unions don’t buy this, arguing that the laws are designed to corporatise agriculture which will benefit private businesses at their cost. They are protesting for the new laws to be repealed, but the government is flatly refusing to do so. Several rounds of talks between farmer unions and the Modi government’s representatives have failed to resolve the deadlock.
So, why have the leaders of a dozen “farmer groups” whose letters Tomar has touted broken with the farmer community to back the Modi government on the new laws?
Probably because many of them have nothing to do with agriculture or farmers. A few of them don’t even represent their own groups, let alone farmers. Newslaundry also found that the leaders of at least five of the 12 groups are with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Krishna Veer Chaudhary giving his letter of support to Narendra Tomar.
Rashtriya Yuva Vahini
The first letter of support that Tomar tweeted out on December 28 is signed by Pandit Harish Gautam, international president of Rashtriya Yuva Vahini. It begins, “Rashtriya Yuva Vahini has always supported the BJP. Today Rashtriya Yuva Vahini fully supports the government on the farm laws.”
In fact, the letterhead declares that Rashtriya Yuva Vahini is associated with the BJP. So, basically the agriculture minister conveniently didn’t note that this letter of support had come from a group linked to his own party.
But does Rashtriya Yuva Vahini represent farmers, even if it’s linked with the BJP? Its stated aim is “construction of cowsheds and orphanages, cow protection, and collaboration in corruption alleviation”. So, no.
Rashtriya Yuva Vahini is also engaged in policing interfaith marriages. It played a crucial role, alongside Hindu Mahasabha, in stopping a wedding recently between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy in Duda, Lucknow, by raising the Hindutva bogey of “love jihad”. The girl and the boy, who live two houses apart, were getting married with the blessings of both their families. Yet, the police immediately stopped the wedding.
Asked if Rashtriya Yuva Vahini, formed in 2016, does any work on farmer issues, its national president, KD Sharma, claimed that they have a “farmer’s wing”.
Could we speak with the head of the farmer’s wing?
“No one holds that position right now,” Sharma replied. “We haven’t given that responsibility to anyone separately. Everything is like this.”
Has the group ever protested for demands of farmers? “We’ll protest for farmers when the government does something to their detriment. This government is working for the benefit of farmers. It is launching many schemes for farmers, so there is no reason for opposition. Our organisation is associated with the BJP so we will talk first. If there’s a need to fight for the rights of farmers, then that will be done. There’s no problem.”
KD Sharma in his office.
As we were wrapping up the interview, Sharma prepared to leave for the Hazratganj Cyber Cell of the Lucknow police, to lodge an FIR against Rakesh Tikait, national spokesperson of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, which is at the forefront of the ongoing protests. Sharma claimed Tikait had made disparaging remarks about the Brahmin community. “There are no farmers at the protest going on in Delhi,” he declared. “Farmers are being misled by the opposition.”
If Rashtriya Yuva Vahini were to organise a protest in support of the farm laws, we asked Sharma, how many farmers would turn up? “We have a thousand people with us who can come for a protest anywhere, anytime,” he replied. “About 250 of them are farmers. So, 250 farmers can come with us anytime.”
Rashtriya Annadata Union
Sharing a letter of support from “Lucknow’s Rashtriya Annadata Union”, Tomar said, “They say they’re fully with the government.”
The letter denounces the farmer union leaders who have been talking to Modi’s ministers as “fake”, and “objects to any changes in the farm laws”.
“These laws favour farmers and will make them self-reliant,” declares the letter signed by Ram Nivas Yadav, the chief of Rashtriya Annadata Union.
Yadav is a prominent BJP functionary and was the party’s Lucknow district president until December 22, 2019. Still, he insisted that his organisation was “apolitical”. “It was formed 7-8 years ago, and is active in 210 Assembly segments of Uttar Pradesh. We have some 10,000 people with us. Our purpose is to raise farmers’ problems and work for their benefit.”
Then why are they supporting the Modi government instead of the protesting farmers? “The laws passed by the government were being demanded for years. We used to work with ‘Baba Tikait’, he was our ideal. In a public meeting in Lucknow in 2003, he asked for freedom from middlemen. He said farmers would be free only when they were allowed to sell their produce as they wished. Today, he isn’t with us but if the government is fulfilling his old demand then it should be honoured,” Yadav said, referring to the late farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait. “People who are protesting should be asked what are the shortcomings of these laws. They only express their worries about what might happen in future. What’s the use of worrying? Tell us what’s wrong with the laws.”
Has he ever protested in support of farmers?
“We were not only beaten but also arrested during Akhilesh Yadav’s rule in Uttar Pradesh. Many of our workers had sustained serious injuries,” he replied. “In 2017, we protested in Lucknow over wheat buying even though it was our government in Uttar Pradesh. Yogi ji heard us and took action against 12 officials.”
Yadav, however, couldn’t substantiate his claims.
Unnatisheel Kisan Club, Pragatisheel Kisan club
Tomar put out a letter supporting the farm laws from Pragatisheel Kisan Club of Haryana and another from Unnatisheel Kisan Club, Gurugram.
It wasn’t Pragatisheel Kisan Club which had sent the letter however, but its Palwal district chief Bijendra Singh Dalal. Though he isn’t a BJP member, Dalal’s social media feeds are full of his pictures with top BJP leaders such as defence minister Rajnath Singh and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Pragatisheel Kisan Club as an organisation supports the protesting farmers rather than the government, its Hisar and Fatehabad chiefs, Rajendra Lamba and Balbir Singh Gharwal, told Newslaundry. They are against the new laws, Gharwal said, adding that members of his club had even gone to protest at Tikri on Delhi’s border.
Asked why his chapter of the club was backing the farm laws when the others were opposed to them, Dalal said, “We are not a farmer union. We are progressive farmers. We inform farmers about the good steps taken by the government. There are about 500 farmers members in our organisation.”
But why does he think the new laws are good when lakhs of farmers in Haryana believe otherwise? “I liked them so I gave my support. Why get into a tussle with anyone,” he replied. “Why deliberately ruin our image in someone’s eyes?”
Though Dalal’s social media feeds are replete with pictures of top BJP leaders, he maintained that he had “nothing to do with politics”. “We work for the benefit of the farmers,” he added.
As for Unnatisheel Kisan Club, Gurugram, its head, Mansingh Yadav, joined the BJP in 2019 after quitting the Indian National Lok Dal. According to a report in Hindustan, he had started out in the BJP before joining the INLD. “There was discord in Chautala’s family, so we had to break away,” Yadav said, referring to the family of former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala which controls the INLD. “I don’t hold any position in the BJP, but I am their supporter.”
Bijendra Singh Dalal with Rajnath Singh, above, and Nirmala Sitharaman.
Yadav spoke to the press after meeting Tomar in Delhi last month, with the BJP posting the video of his remarks on Facebook. In it, he says, “Farmers are a section of society that anyone can mislead. If you read this ordinance all your problems will be sorted. People can be misled. Same thing has been going on for 70 years, but now the auctioning of our grains will end. Something has to be changed. Nothing changed in the last 70 years and we are still poor. Try this once.”
Has he read the laws himself, we asked Yadav?
“We are illiterate. We have no understanding of the law,” he replied. “But most members of our club believe that we have been doing the same thing for 70 years and if there’s a change now we should try it. Maybe we’ll get more customers. We can check the results of these changes and then decide.”
Yadav insisted that despite his own political affiliation, his club was an “apolitical organisation that functions as a bridge between farmers and government”. “We bring farmers’ demands to the government and make sure government schemes reach them,” he added. “There are about 200-300 members in our club. It started 20 years ago, and I have been chosen president all through this time except three years in between.”
Akhil Bhartiya Bang Parishad
Tweeting a letter from Akhil Bhartiya Bang Parishad, Tomar said, “They say that these farm laws would help in improving farmers’ economic condition.”
Akhil Bhartiya Bang Parishad is led by Arun Mukherjee, a Delhi resident, who works for the BJP and is a member of the national council of Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an RSS affiliate. He took part in last month’s BJP protest to press the Delhi government to release Rs 13,000 crore in allegedly pending funds to the city’s municipalities.
The Bang Parishad, formed a year and a half ago, isn’t involved with agriculture or farmers. “Wherever in the country Bengalis live we do our work there. The word ‘Bengali’ has been turned into an expletive. That’s why we work for the honour of our state,” Mukherjee explained the aim and work of his group. “When people of a particular community came to western areas of Bengal from Bangladesh, the Hindus there left their homes and fields and migrated to other parts of the country. About a lakh families ran away and are scared to go back. We’re working on sending these people back safely.”
Is his group associated with farmers in any way? “We have been trying to improve the condition of Bengal’s farmers,” he replied. “Because of governments there, the farmers haven’t been able to profit and have stayed poor. Nobody raised their voices for them. Every state has its farmers organisations but not Bengal, that’s why we established this organisation.”
Asked specifically how they have helped Bengal’s farmers, Mukherjee didn’t have a clear answer. “Five thousand people are connected to us from Delhi,” he said. “People from Bengal and from some districts of UP and other parts of the country are also connected to us.”
Indian Kisan Union
The Indian Kisan Union of Delhi says “these laws are beneficial for farmers and would make them self-reliant,” Tomar declared on his Twitter feed.
In its letter, the union urged the government not to repeal the new laws “under any pressure”.
The Indian Kisan Union operates out of an office in Safdarjung area in Delhi. It’s led by Chaudhary Ram Kumar Walia, 55, a resident of Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Wali was a longtime Congress leader and served as a minister in Uttarakhand before joining the BJP. “I have practised farmer politics my whole life. I am a BJP member but I hold no posts in the party. Earlier, I was national vice-president of the Kisan Congress.”
About his union, Walia said, “This organisation is four-five years old. People in small numbers from all over the country are connected. We haven’t counted but thousands must have connected.”
Why does he support the new farm laws? “The laws are completely in favour of farmers. We read and analysed them, got them checked from our people, and concluded that these laws will improve the condition of farmers. Today, even after so many years of independence, the condition of farmers isn’t good and is getting worse by the day. These laws can bring prosperity to farmers.”
Protesting farmers at Singhu on the Delhi border.
So, are the farmers protesting against the laws mistaken? “Many political parties are ending because of Modi ji's popularity,” he responded. “It is Modi ji whose name is resounding in this country. His popularity has increased even during the pandemic which has made all political parties uncomfortable and they are trying to find new issues. Farmers are a peaceful community, they are naive and have been misled. Fear is being spread that because of these laws their lands will be taken away. Mandis will be finished, the produce won’t be sold on MSP. That’s why poor farmers are sitting there.”
Has the Indian Kisan Union ever taken to streets to safeguard farmer interests? “We hit the streets over farmer interests whenever it was needed. It is hard to point out one instance but we’ve fought for farmers our whole lives,” he said. “Please come to our office, I’ll give you the proof.”
Bhartiya Krishak Samaj
“A letter received from Bhartiya Krishak Samaj of Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, in support of the new farm reform laws,” Tomar tweeted, sharing another letter of support. “They have said it is a big, brave and historic step for farmers’ welfare while expressing their support for the laws.”
गाज़ियाबाद उत्तरप्रदेश के "भारतीय कृषक समाज" से प्राप्त नए कृषि सुधार कानूनों के समर्थन में प्राप्त पत्र...— Narendra Singh Tomar (@nstomar) December 28, 2020
उन्होंने इस पत्र में कृषि कानूनों का समर्थन करते हुए इसे किसान हित में एक बड़ा साहसिक व ऐतिहासिक कदम बताया है...#FarmersWithModi pic.twitter.com/m1WvqtTdot
Bhartiya Krishak Samaj is headed by Krishna Veer Chaudhary, a self-described “ordinary member” of the BJP. He joined the BJP six years ago, in the presence of then party president Rajnath Singh.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Chaudhary said his was “an organisation by farmers and for farmers”. “Our aim is to raise farmers’ problems before the government,” he added. “My ideology is working for the benefit of farmers.”
Chaudhary was with the Congress before jumping ship. “When in the Congress, we continuously spoke for farmers. We steadfastly fought because middlemen are exploiting the farmers, they are robbing farmers. Then Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh kept talking about it, Sharad Pawar also spoke. Back then they used to listen to us. The country’s first agriculture minister was Punjab Rao Deshmukh, and we follow his ideals. He said that until the farmer did not stand on his own in the market, their exploitation would continue. Chaudhary Charan Singh said the same thing. Was he wrong? Our fight is only with the middlemen.”
Apart from backing the Modi regime himself, Chaudhary is mobilising support from people such as Prakash Mankar of Maharashtra Krishak Samaj and Vijendra Singh Dalal of Pragatisheel Kisan Club, Palwal. Mankar has already sent two letters, one to Tomar supporting the farm laws and the other to Chaudhary.
The rest of the dozen groups that have extended support to the Modi government over the farm laws include J&K Kisan Council, J&K Dairy Producers, Processors and Marketing Cooperative Union; Krishi Jagran Manch, Kolkata; Bhartiya Kisan Sangathan, Delhi; and Peasant Welfare Association, Muzaffarnagar, UP.
A version of this story was previously published on Newslaundry Hindi.
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