Who will carry the baton of farmers agitation Rakesh Tikait or Lakha Sidhana?

Who will carry the baton of farmers agitation Rakesh Tikait or Lakha Sidhana?

Farmer leaders have accused both Sidhana and Sidhu of orchestrating the violence. “Deep Sidhu and Lakha Sidhana have tried to damage our protest,” said Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan).

Lakha Sidhana has also indirectly hit out at farmer leader Rakesh Tikait and said the farmers’ protests are now being “led by others who are not Punjabis”.

Singhu and Tikri borders in Delhi have remained the epicentre of farmers’ agitation since it began on November 26 last year, populated mostly by farmers from Haryana and Punjab. Several activists and Punjabi film personalities, including Diljit Dosanjh, visited the Singhu border to lend support to the movement.

The 2020–2021 Indian farmers’ protest is an ongoing protest against three farm acts which were passed by the Parliament of India in September 2020. Farmer unions and their representatives have demanded that the laws be repealed and have stated that they will not accept a compromise. Farmer leaders have rejected a Supreme Court of India stay order on the implementation of the farm laws as well as. The presence of several political party-backed outfits has complicated negotiations as they have their own ideologies, demands, and methods of protest.

The agitation is led by 35 farmers’ unions – 31 among them from Punjab alone, and the rest from Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. Some 10 farmers’ unions, including eight from Punjab, have political affiliations. While farmer unions have drawn their support mostly from middle-aged and elderly farmers, and even political workers, participation of youths in the ongoing agitation has been noticed.

While six farmers’ unions from Punjab are affiliated to various Left organizations, the other two are with the Akali Dal. Two more farmers’ outfits outside Punjab owe allegiance to the Aam Aadmi Party and Congress. Left aligned farmer unions want youths joining the agitation to behave like their cadre and fall in line without questioning decisions of leadership.

The affiliations of the protesters are political and there are political parties that are interested in the protest to continue and the fake farmers are playing along as pawns.

Initially, farmer unions did not allow politicians to dominate its platform. As stages at Delhi Morcha were controlled by the farmer unions, there were restrictions on who would speak from the stage. Deep Sidhu was barred from speaking on the very first day. Lakha Sidhana was barred after he expressed resentment from stage that he was made to wait for his turn to speak. A former Punjab University president Kanupriya too had said that she also faced resistance over speaking from stage at Singhu. Later, her union was also declared as a traitor by SKM constituents along with Deep Sidhu and Lakha Sidhana.

On the flip side, farmer unions had initially denied space to the social media influencers and singers. Famous singers like Harbhajan Mann and Sidhu Mossewala were asked to stay away to avoid ‘nuisance’ during farm protest.

It was only after the Shambu rally that farmer unions had allowed singers to participate thus drawing more youth into the protest, dharna where ever they would be stopped on the way to Delhi.

It was, however, unaligned youth of Punjab that had moved towards Delhi on its own despite the fact that farmer unions had decided to not break any barricade and sit on

Farmer unions were literally forced to reach Delhi by youth and it also sowed the seed mistrust between protesting youth and unions.

The tractor march of January 26, over the controversial farm laws was, however, flooded by unaligned youth of Punjab that had moved towards Delhi on its own despite no mobilisation by farmer unions. The tractor march was meant to be a peaceful protest aimed at only putting forward the issues the farmers are facing went berserk on Tuesday with the participants flouting the undertaking that the union leaders of the protesting farmers gave to the Delhi Police. However, chaotic scenes emerged from farmers’ tractor march on January 26 as nothing took place according to the plan. The umbrella body of the farmers’ unions had asked participants to not carry any arms, but the participation of Nihang Sikhs atop their horses, carrying and wielding their swords and sticks, became a flashpoint of chaos.

Farmer leaders have accused both Sidhana and Sidhu of orchestrating the violence. “Deep Sidhu and Lakha Sidhana have tried to damage our protest,” Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), told ThePrint. “They incited the youth to take over the agitation and give it a different colour. We were marching on the route finalised for us but we encountered these agitated youth who wanted us to change our route.”

Obviously, whatever happened during the tractor rally was orchestrated mainly by wanted gangster Lakha Sidhana with separatist group Dal Khalsa lending support. Unfortunately, the well-oiled machinery of famer unions that has organised the rally was side lined and it became in effective.

The recent the Mehraj rally held on Tuesday January 26, was such a protest over the controversial farm laws that witnessed youth participation despite no mobilisation by farmer unions.

Despite several restrictions imposed by the government and hurdles created by the left leaning organizations of Punjab, the rally being organized at Mehraj village of Bathinda district witnessed record breaking gathering of common people in support of Lakha Sidhana, Deep Sidhu and other activists and farmers arrested by Delhi Police in false cases registered for incidents in the national capital of India on January 26.

For the Mehraj rally, however, the call was mainly from wanted gangster Lakha Sidhana with separatist group Dal Khalsa lending support, and the well-oiled and high-profile machinery of farmer unions that has been organising massive Kisan Mahapanchayats was ineffective.

The rally was organized in grain market of the historic village and flood of the people carrying Khalsa flags has been witnessed on the venue and surrounding areas. Gangster turned leader Lakha Sidhana, who is wanted by Delhi Police in case of Republic Day violence and carries prize money or Rs. 1 lakh for sharing info about him, on January 23, attended rally at Mehraj village native village of Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh and remained in public for almost more than one hour.

There are many Sikh youth bodies in Punjab, which work in small pockets and don’t have large base. All such Sikh bodies also pushed good number of youth influencers into the protest. Many of these youngsters received notices from NIA in January and they were not happy with farmer unions allegedly not supporting them.

Mehraj rally saw the involvements of many unaligned youth who were drawn through social media by the likes of actor Deep Sidhu and gangster Lakha Sidhana who built a narrative over farm laws to reach them through Facebook lives. It was also the first time when several social media influencers also hit ground to join the protests.

Unemployment in Punjab has also been cited as a reason by many for large youth participation. Further, the youth in the state have been at the receiving end for several ills plaguing the state including the drug problem. Many who joined the movement saw it as a bid for redemption. The resentment among youth against the political class, apart from farm bills issue, has also been a big force behind these unaligned rallies.

Punjabi singers too played an important role in bringing youth to the agitation.

The Mehraj rally is also being seen by political analysts as an indication to political parties that established youth leaders are not meeting aspirations of Punjabi youth. With polls due next year, this could prove a challenge for political parties in the state.

The criminal-turned-activist has been protesting with farmers since November against the contentious farm laws.

Who is Lakha Sidhana?

Lakhbir Singh, alias Lakha Sidhana, is resident of Bathinda in Punjab, and a big name in crime, as well as politics, in the state. Lakha Sidhana holds two master’s degrees and at one time, even wanted to join the Indian Army. He is also a Kabaddi player.

He entered the world of crime as a student leader and was initially involved in small brawls but later indulged in booth capturing and then became a gangster. Lakha Sidhana used to work for Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Sikander Singh Maluka.

He decided to become an activist and bid adieu to the world of crime after the police picked up his mother and wife during the time he was wanted in various cases and absconding. Before becoming a social activist, Sidhana was a part of the Punjab People’s Party (PPP) and had contested the state Assembly elections from Rampura.

In the past, Sidhana has been accused in over a dozen cases including murder, attempt to murder and assault. He also has a case registered against him under the Gangster Act.

Lakha Sidhana was first jailed in 2004 and was put behind the bars many times till 2017. He was also arrested on October 31, 2017, after some of the activists of his group, Malwa Youth Federation, smudged signboards written in Hindi and English along the Bathinda-Barnala highway. The group was demanding that Punjabi words be placed on top of signboards.

Later in November 2017, he was booked for using a mobile phone while inside Faridkot jail.

Lakha Sidhana also contested assembly election on a Punjab People’s Party (PPP) ticket from Rampura Phul Assembly constituency but had to forfeit his deposit.

He was shot twice but survived. At least 44 of Sidhana’s accomplices were either killed by rivals or in police action.

 

For the Mehraj rally, the call was mainly from wanted gangster Lakha Sidhana with separatist group Dal Khalsa lending support.