Popular farmers' leader and founder president of Bhartiya Kisan Union Mahendra Sigh Tikait, who died of bone cancer on Sunday morning in Muzaffarnagar, had led over a dozen major movements in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, fighting for the cause of farmers.
Born on October 6, 1935 in Sisauli village of Muzaffarmagar district, Tikait emerged as the most powerful farmers' voice in North India. He shot into the national spotlight for the first time in 1987, when he gheraod the Karmukhera power house in Muzaffarnagar to demand the waiver of power dues of farmers.
The farmers' leader led a march of more than one lakh farmers to Meerut with a 35- point charter of demands, seeking various concessions for farmers in February 1988.
In March 1988, he led a 110-day long fast which culminated in a violent 'rail roko' and 'rasta roko' movement. The BKU laid a virtual siege around Meerut in pursuit of higher prices for sugarcane, cancellation of loans, lowering of water tax and waiver of electricity dues.
The movement compelled the state government to concede certain demands, which propelled him to march down to the Delhi Boat Club where he held a week-long sit-in panchayat in the winter of 1988.
In September 1989, when a young Muslim girl was abducted and murdered in Bhopa village of Muzaffarnagar district, Tikait was the first to lead the farmers to gherao the local police station, and succeeded in pressuring the cops to bring the guilty to book.
In July 1990, Tikait reached Lucknow with a band of over two lakh farmers to urge the UP government to concede to the farmers' demand for higher sugarcane pricex and heavy rebates in electricity dues. The pressure tactics worked and the then Janata Dal government bowed down before his demands.
He led yet another panchayat in Lucknow in January 1992 to protest against the enhanced rate of fertilisers, hike in electricity rates and regulation of supply of sugarcane to sugar mills. He also pitched in for local farmers who were seeking higher compensation for land acquired on the outskirts of Lucknow for setting up a TELCO unit.
Demanding higher fertiliser subsidy for farmers, he staged yet another panchayat in Delhi in October 1991.
In 1992, Tikait was back in Lucknow to stage a month-long sit-in panchayat in pursuance of his demand for writing off farmers' loans up to Rs 10,000. The same year, he launched a Farmers Land Compensation Movement in Ghaziabad, seeking higher compensation towards the acquired land of farmers.
While conducting these movements, Tikait was arrested several times, the latest being in 2008 on the orders of Chief Minister Mayawati for having used derogatory language against her. It took a contingent of 6,000 armed policemen to lay a siege around his village for his arrest. He was released only after tendering an apology to the CM.
Before getting bogged down by disease and age, his last formidable show of strength came in 2008, when he vociferously opposed intra-gotra marriages. The farmer community, largely dominated by Jats in Western UP, is still deeply wedded to their mediaeval social tradition of not allowing marriages within the same gotra (sub-caste) of a particular caste. And Tikait even opposed the Supreme Court for holding such marriages valid.
"We live by a moral code where honour has to be protected at any cost. Same gotra marriages are incestuous, No society would accept it. Why do you expect us to do so? Incest violates maryada (honour) and villagers would kill or be killed to protect their maryada," he had said openly in a TV interview.
In yet another interaction with the media, he had not only termed love marriages as 'dirty' but went to the extent of adding, "Only prostitutes can choose their partners."
Tikait's death was condoled by top political leaders of the state including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
In a condolence message, Mayawati described Tikait as a "true and committed leader of farmers".
Thousands of farmers, politicians and social workers are going to pay their homage to the farmer leader.
According to his son and Bhartiya Kisan Union general secretary Rajesh Tikait, who is all set to inherit his father's legacy, "The cremation will take place at Sisauli on Monday at 11 am".