New Delhi: A day after the Naresh and Rakesh Tikait-led Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) split Sunday, politics within the organisation has emerged as the main likely cause for the division.
The breakaway faction blamed “politicisation” of the parent body — and its “open support” to parties in opposition to the BJP — and the Tikaits’ “dictatorial control” for the split. However, sources within the union claimed that political aspirations of those in the rebel group, and their “sympathies for the BJP”, led to the break.
Founded in 1987, this is the eleventh split in the union, which was one of the main organisations leading the year-long farmers’ protest against the now-repealed farm laws brought by the Modi government in 2020.
The new group, BKU (Arajnaitik or ‘apolitical’), was formed in Lucknow, with Rajendra Malik — head of the Gathwala Khap (a group of 84 villages) — as its head. The split coincided with the death anniversary of former BKU president — and Naresh and Rakesh Tikait’s father — Mahendra Singh Tikait, who died in 2011.
Rajesh Singh Chouhan, a farmers’ leader from eastern UP who served as vice-president of the Tikait-led body, has been made president of the new group.
”BKU was an apolitical organisation, fighting for farmers rights. It also led the farmers protest on the three (controversial) farm laws. But ahead of the assembly elections (in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab) it took a political character, favouring one party and opposing others,” alleged Dharmendra Malik, the former national media in-charge of the BKU who joined the breakaway group as its national spokesperson.
Mallik added: “We became part of opposition (against the BJP). We sit with Kejriwal. When we go to Bengal, we sided with Mamata (Banerjee, Chief Minister). In Telangana, we took CM K. Chandrashekar Rao’s side. In UP, we sided with the Samajwadi party and the RLD.
“We have openly announced support for opposition parties (those against the BJP), which was not good for an organisation like BKU. This was the main reason for the split.”
Rajendra Malik alleged that the “BKU had become a pocket organisation of the Tikaits (controlled by them) — Naresh Tikait was president, his wife is head of the women’s wing, his son Gaurav is head of youth wing, brother Rakesh is spokesperson of BKU — what will other leaders do?”
“Their dictatorial behaviour led to the split in the organisation,” he said.
BKU national spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, however, blamed the BJP for the division in the organisation.
”They (the BJP) have seen the power of farmers during the farmers’ protest (against the three farm laws) and the BJP is trying to divide the farmers’ union. In a few days, it will be clear who was behind (the split), but always remember it is the public who made movement, not the leaders,” said Tikait.
He added: “Our best wishes are with those who work for farmers’ interests. We were convincing these leaders to remain united for the cause of the farmers, but I think there was pressure on them. The government (the BJP government at the Centre) have not fulfilled our demand for minimum support price (MSP), and now they are trying to weaken farmers’ organisations.”
Sources within the BKU also alleged that those in the breakaway group had hoped for assembly tickets in this year’s UP and Punjab elections. When that did not happen, disgruntlement led to division in the organisation, they said.
“Dharmendra Malik, who is the main person behind the split, was hoping to get an assembly seat from Budhana (in UP). He even met Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party chief) before the election, but there was difference in opinion within the union on contesting elections,” a BKU leader said, pleading anonymity.
“The faction led by Malik is unhappy the Tikaits did not push for party tickets for him and a few others. A few other leaders in the union also felt overshadowed by Naresh and Rakesh Tikait,” the BKU leader added.
Implication of the split
The BKU is not new to divisions. In 2001, the union’s youth wing president, Rishipal Ambawata, left the BKU and formed another outfit called BKU-Ambawata.
In 2011, a faction led by former state president Bhanu Pratap Singh separated from the BKU and formed the Bharatiya Kisan Union–Bhanu. In 2013, Shyoraj Singh, who had been the district president of the BKU in Gautam Buddha Nagar, joined the BKU-Bhanu. He subsequently formed his own outfit, the BKU-Lokshakti, in 2017.
In 2015, another leader, Harpal Bilari, left the BKU and formed the BKU-Asli (real).
Sunday’s split is significant, however, since it is likely to weaken the “anti-BJP stance” taken by the BKU under the Tikaits, following the farmers’ agitation, which had somewhat impacted the party’s performance in parts of UP.
The assembly election, which came on the heels of the farmers’ agitation, had seen mobilisation of Jat voters against the ruling party, even though the farm laws were withdrawn before the elections.
The pressure built by the Tikaits on the BJP — with demands for MSP, among others — led to a setback for the party in some seats (though it managed to return to power in UP) and helped improve the SP’s tally.
Even the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which won only one seat in the 2017 UP assembly election, won eights seats in western UP this year.
The new faction is supportive of the BJP, claimed sources in the BKU.
“Even when farmers from across Haryana and UP were united on the repeal of the farm laws, Rajendra Malik (chairman of the new group) was with the BJP and advocating the end of protest,” said a second BKU leader.
The leader alleged: “When Amit Shah met Jat leaders from UP to Delhi in January, he (Malik) was with (BJP leader) Sanjeev Balyan, to support BJP in the Jat belt. He did not even participate in the Muzaffarnagar rally called by Tikait during the protest and openly supported BJP MLA Umesh Malik before the elections.”
An alleged attack by agitating farmers on Umesh Malik — they reportedly threw stones at the politician’s car — last year added to the rift in BKU, claimed sources.
Dharmendra Malik’s alleged political sympathies — he had been a member of the Kisan Samriddhi Aayog, formed to boost farmer income, during the first Yogi Adityanath government in UP — despite his participation in the agitation against the farm laws was a factor too, sources said.
“After Adityanath returned to power in UP, the BJP government in the state wanted to teach the Tikaits a lesson for their open support to the SP before the elections. Malik (Rajendra) was already their supporter and a little push achieved the desired result (the split),” said a third BKU leader.
With inputs from Shikha Salaria.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)