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Acupuncturist, ex-Army man, doctor — 5 farmer leaders who shaped protest against farm laws

Leaders of a laundry list of farmer organisations have joined hands to mobilise protestors for a united front against the Modi govt during the ongoing agitation.

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Chandigarh: A trained acupuncturist, a doctor and an Army veteran — the Punjab farmer leaders leading the current agitation against the Narendra Modi government’s farm laws come from different backgrounds but all have roots in agriculture.

From Jagmohan Singh Patiala, the 64-year-old general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union Ekta (Dakaunda), and Joginder Singh Ugrahan, 75, who heads heads the BKU Ekta Ugrahan, to Balbir Singh Rajewal, 77, the leader of his own BKU faction, and Dr Darshan Pal, 70, of the Krantikari Kisan Union Punjab — leaders of a laundry list of farmers’ organisations have joined hands to mobilise protestors and present a united front against the government during the agitation.

As the Modi government tries to arrive at a resolution, here is a look at five farmer leaders who have helped shape the agitation.


Also Read: Farmers’ protest a big challenge for Modi. Bigger than demonetisation, GST


Jagmohan Singh Patiala

Patiala, 64, is a marginal farmer and trained acupuncturist who has earlier worked in the cooperative department of the Punjab government. He was an activist of the Bharatiya Kisan Union Ekta before a break-up 15 years ago led to the emergence of the Bharti Kisan Union Ekta (Dakaunda), which he now serves as general secretary. 

Patiala is believed to have initiated the agitation against the three central farm laws as early as June — when the laws were ordinances and three months away from passage as Acts. At the time, 10 farmer bodies held a joint meeting under the banner of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) and decided that farmers would be made aware of the provisions of the laws. 

Over the ensuing weeks, Patiala brought 31 farmer groups under the umbrella of the AIKSCC, which has been at the forefront of the protests since September. It is considered a credit to Patiala’s organisational skills and reach among farmers that so many groups in the factionalised world of farmer organisations have come together on one issue. 

Patiala and BKU (Dakaunda) president Buta Singh Burj Gill are known to form a formidable team, and their organisation has been a leading voice on issues such as farm loan waivers and compensations in farmer suicide cases.

Joginder Singh Ugrahan

Ugrahan, 75, heads the BKU Ekta Ugrahan, one of the most popular and aggressive farmer unions in Punjab with the largest membership base. Known for having an uncompromising stand on most farmer issues, the leader is believed to command an almost blind following in the Malwa region for his pursuit of the cause of the small and marginal farmer. 

Ugrahan used to be in the Army but returned to farming after retirement and went on to form his own offshoot of the BKU in 2002. 

The BKU Ugrahan is not a part of the 31 organisations spearheading the current protest but has been running parallel agitations in Punjab, starting with a sit-in outside Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s Patiala residence in September. Ugrahan’s team — led by BKU Ugrahan general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, a former teacher and an equally strong farmer leader — has been responsible for the more aggressive aspects of the protests in Punjab, including the Rail Roko agitation, burning of BJP leaders’ effigies, and gheraoing of BJP leaders. Their programme has been mostly in coordination with the 31 organisations under the AIKSCC.

Balbir Singh Rajewal

Rajewal, 77, is a well-known figure in Punjab. He has headed his faction of the BKU since he broke away from the original outfit in the 1990s. He is credited with having drafted the constitution of the BKU. 

His vast experience and in-depth knowledge of agriculture in Punjab have made him the ‘think tank’ of this agitation. 

His deft articulation of farmers’ viewpoint is seen as an asset during talks with central ministers. His seniority has also been put to use while unifying differing opinions that emerged during the meetings of the 31 unions in planning and implementing their protests. He has prepared the demand charter for this protest. 

Once considered close to the Akalis, especially former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, Rajewal guided the Akalis in drawing up plans for agricultural improvement in the state. He has never accepted any political post from any party, or contested elections.

Dr Darshan Pal 

The 70-year-old MD in anaesthesia is the coordinating and unifying force behind the current agitation. He is the president of Krantikari Kisan Union Punjab, which has been working for farm loan waivers for several years. His is among the first few organisations that started protesting against the central farm ordinances in June. 

Dr Darshan Pal is also among the farmer leaders who have played a vital role in bringing the 31 organisations together for the agitation, and now plays the role of coordinator for this grouping. 

Pal left his job with the Punjab civil medical service in 2002 and started farming on the 15 acres of land that his family owns. He actively participated in the programmes of the BKU before joining the Krantikari Kisan Union in 2016, going on to become its state president this year.

A member of the working group of the AIKSCC, Pal has played an important role in taking the agitation beyond Punjab to farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Maharashtra.


Also Read: This is how Modi govt plans to address farmers’ problems, end protests


Satnam Singh Pannu

The president of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, Punjab, Pannu, 65, is a powerful voice for the cause of landless labourers. Since its creation in 2000, Pannu’s organisation has spread from Majha (border districts) to Doaba and Malwa regions.  

Along with general secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher, Pannu has made the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee comparable to the BKU Ugrahan in its aggression. The committee has created micro units at village and block levels, and women and the young have been active participants in the organisation’s work.

A graduate from Tarn Taran, Pannu has about 10 acres of land that is cultivated by his sons. The Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee is not a part of the 31 farmer bodies spearheading the agitation, but is supporting them.

Even so, Pannu refused to ease the Rail Roko protests even when the other farmers agreed to do so after talks with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

Members of his organisation continued to sit on the rail tracks in Jandiala even after the Rail Roko protest was withdrawn on 23 November. However, they have since left the site to lead an individual protest to Delhi. Their leaders have refused to participate in talks with the central government.  

Fresh faces

The farmers protest has also set the stage for the emergence of some young leaders, such as Bhupinder Singh Longowal, the 35-year-old state convener of the Kirti Kisan Union youth wing. 

Longowal and his team of youngsters are considered single-handedly responsible for getting rural youth involved in this agitation. Longowal is a postgraduate in political science and was a member of the Punjab Students’ Union and the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, a Left organisation dating back to pre-Independence days, before joining the Kirti Kisan Union.

Members of the Kisan Morcha, led by Ruldu Singh Mansa, and the BKU (Sidhupur) of Jagjit Singh Dallewal and the BKU (Kadian) of Harmeet Singh Kadian, have also emerged as active participants in this agitation.

The young members of the latter two were the ones who broke through the barricades put up in Haryana on the way from Punjab to Delhi during their ‘Dilli Chalo’ rally.

This report has been updated with additional information


Also Read: ‘Canada will always defend rights of peaceful protest’ — Justin Trudeau on farmers’ agitation


 

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Why most of the people commenting here have so much jealousy against the very farmers who feed them , at these low prices . North western india is the bread basket of India . When these farmers, who live closer to the capital are protesting for all the farmers of India . Suddenly some treacherous people come up with every kind of nonsense against them . If , all of you commentators don’t have anythig truthful or good to say ,, then just keep quiet and please don’t propagate falsehood . Every citizen of India has come to know the reality of this print media as well. Always stand for truth and be on the right side of history .

  2. Punjab farmers are separatist by nature or how would you explain simultaneous protests abroad .Punjab is a rotten state.With growing rich not a single village in Punjab is free from drugs.Mainly jatt Seekhs who have ulterior motives are protesting.Punjab has the highest percentage of SCs but they are treated very badly by these jats.Time to kick these jatts on their butts.

  3. Why are none of the English news media not asking the opinion of farmers from other states about the new laws? Why is it that BJP ministers never even bothered to speak to peacefully protesting Tamil farmers 4 years ago but are willing to listen to violent protestors from Punjab & Haryana? Why are all the experts talking on channels about these laws are only bothered about the losses to farmers dependent on MSPs but do not talk about the majority farmers from other states who do not get MSPs for the other crops that they grow and yet are not allowed to sell where they want but forced to sell to brokers at mandis at the brokers’ stated price?
    Doesn’t the media remember how many times farmers have thrown milk, tomatoes,onions,potatoes on the roads because they do not have MSP and they cannot be sold anywhere else and they cannot be stored anywhere because neither the farmer has warehouses nor the mandis or the FCI nor the government?
    Why are the PRINT journalists so biased? Is it because most of them are based in Punjab, Haryana & Delhi? Are you people journalists covering the country of India or do you think only Delhi & surrounding states only constitute modern India?

  4. Mazo fails to substantiate his claim with any evidence that the farmers’ protests are directly or indirectly related to any of those fantastical excuses. Mazo’s erratic claims are the product of his strange imagination, inability to comprehend the issue at hand because he doesn’t *really* care, and perhaps an unsurprisingly condescending Brahministic “Manu-Vadi” attitude towards India’s farmers). Mazo is clearly talking out of your arse.

    If he had read the bills, he would be under no doubts of the government’s attempt to “neo-liberalize” the agricultural market of India through the creation of an unregulated parallel market. Common sense would dictate that corporations (Ambani and Adani – commonly known as “Modi’s Rockefellers”) would be quick to swoop in and monopolize this un-regulated market through numerous means. Hence, corporations will have the freedom to regulate supply and demand de-facto as and when their analysts see fit. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to fathom such a scenario, particularly considering that this is a well-studied phenomenon in nations were “neo-liberalized” agricultural markets are the norm. One need only look to south-east Asian countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.) for examples of generational poverty introduced by “neo-liberalization” of agricultural markets — everything, including (mediocre) village schools are left to the behest of profit-maximizing transnationals. The farmers aren’t even considered stakeholders.

    I should also mention that farmers are protesting *throughout* the country, not only Punjab and Haryana. Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, West UP, Rajasthan, Bihar, and others. The fact that only Punjabi, Haryanvi, north Rajasthani, and west UP farmers are seen in Delhi is because of their close proximity to Delhi. If Mazo had ever travelled on a tractor (often the farmers’ only motor vehicle), he’d realize how frustrating and challenging long-distance commute is.

    The “mandi system” of marketing is a world-renowned system that ensures a fair price to the producer (farmer) and consumer. The very fact that it has only been implemented in Punjab and Haryana is due to demographics and culture traditionally dominated by agriculturists (as far back as the 16th century, India’s first census). UP, Bihar, and much other north- and central- Indian states have been subject to centuries of Brahmin-Rajput nepotism and despotism. This has often curbed the interest of the farmers in those regions, who were, until recently, mere tillers denied rights to land ownership. Thus, unlike Punjab and Haryana, the development of the “mandi system” was never seen a priority in those areas. Now, they look to Punjab and Haryana for their agricultural model.

    Furthermore, Mazo is outright lying that the FCI only (apparently “perversely”) purchases from Punjab and Haryana. That is simply not true. Anybody with access to the internet can verify FCI purchases.

    A second outrageous lie, which is perhaps a good indicator of Mazo’s malicious intent behind his comment and bigoted outlook, is his claim of “free irrigation, electricity, seed, fertilizer, farm implements”. ONE: neither irrigation NOR electricity is free in Punjab or Haryana – in fact, often times the supply is so unreliable they spend vast amounts of money on diesel and generators to get their job done. TWO: farmers PAY full price for their seed. THREE: farmers either purchase or have their implements manufactured AT THEIR OWN COST. I could only imagine what the farmers’ would have made of Mazo if he’d dared to parrot such blatantly outrageous lies in front of a Punjabi or Haryanvi farmer.

  5. Covid unemployment and plenty of jobless youth in Punjab and Haryana are the reason we see these “Five Star Farmers” protest against “conspiracies” and “imaginary” corporates who are going to take over their dirt patches.

    After free irrigation, free electricity, free seed, subsidized fertilizer, subsidized farm implements, FCI guaranteed floor prices and ZERO income taxes – these buggers now want to “extort” some more from the consumers and citizens of India by trying to make MSP a “right” when unlike the pampered Sardars of Punjab, 90% of India’s farmers don’t get MSP prices for their crops!

    States like Maharashtra, Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu etc produce MUCH MUCH more than Punjab – nobody even cares about MSP there as FCI perversely only buys in Punjab and Haryana!

    • Completely agree. I am a physician from Andhra and also a farmer as a family legacy. My family owns 10 acres totally which is lesser than some of these farmer leaders own. I grow fruits which have no MSP and are mostly not bought in the Mandis. I also see farmers as patients. No one here among the farming community have any objections to the new laws.
      I have seen the children of many farmers pay donations for their medical seats and have also seen their lavish lifestyles. None of these Punjab & Haryana farmers were bothered when Tamil farmers came to Delhi and protested peacefully wearing kacchas on the road and eating rats and showing the skeletons of their family & colleagues who had committed suicide. They were only protesting to get water from Cauvery. They did not block roads or rails or injure people and the police did not have any reason to lathi charge or water cannon or tear gas them. But, none of the central ministers came out to talk with them. And because their protests were peaceful [lasting about a month] & never as unions, even the common man and the media supported them but BJP neglected them.
      Just goes to show that the BJP is only concerned with North & West India. Look at what they have done to Andhra Pradesh.

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