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.
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.
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.
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