Who is Rakesh Tikait? As the viral video of one the leaders of the farmers’ protests crying went viral, spurring a revival in farmers’ spirits and common citizens alike, Rakesh Tikait became a household name. The spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), Rakesh Tikait is now seen as one of the protests most influential figures.
But that hasn’t always been the case. Not everyone was behind Rakesh Tikait before his viral video and a lot of people are still conflicted about supporting him for his views and actions on matters other than the farm bills. From being complicit in the Muzaffarnagar riots to being considered a puppet of the Centre during the farmers’ protests, many people have had their doubts about the 51-year-old.
Rakesh Tikait was born in Muzaffarnagar, UP, in 1969. He is the son of farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait who co-founded the BKU. Mahendra Tikat was influential in his time and led many farmers agitations in the late 80s. After he died in 2011, his two sons, Naresh and younger son Rakesh took charge of the BKU. Naresh is the union’s current president while Rakesh is the spokesperson and is now seen as the de-facto leader.
After completing his LLB, and MA from Meerut University, Rakesh Tikait became a police constable between 1985 and 1993. After turning into a politician, he contested the 2007 UP assembly elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but lost both times.
In 2013, West UP saw massive communal uproar. 66 people were killed and almost 60,000 were rendered homeless and were internally displaced, most of them Muslim. The BKU allegedly had a part to play in these riots. While Naresh Tikait was seen as the leading figure of the BKU back then, it still doesn’t absolve them of blame.
The Muzaffarnagar riots saw the worst of the BKU with its leaders and members accused of inciting and participating in the riots. On the other hand, the farmers’ protests have brought out the “best” of the BKU.
After the Republic Day protests, Rakesh Tikait came out and condemned the violence. The farmers’ protests seemed to have an end in sight with the government ready to close down protest sites and crackdown on protesters.
— AajTak (@aajtak) January 28, 2021
The Ghazipur border seemed all but lost until the appeal of Rakesh Tikait drew out support. The police were ready to crack down on the protesters unwilling to leave before the video of Rakesh Tikait crying went viral. He said, “Agar kanoon vapas nhi hue toh Rakesh Tikait atmahatya karega (If the law isn’t repealed, I will commit suicide).” This was perceived as a cry for help from his supporters, who immediately converged to the Ghazipur border.
The outpouring of support forced the police to back down and the protests have continued and grown since then.
It’s the tale of two Mahapanchayats in Muzaffarnagar, one on 7 September, 2013 and the other on 29 January, 2021. One resulted in a massive riot that led to death and destruction while the other has reinvigorated the farmers’ protests at Ghazipur.
While the recent actions of the BKU don’t undo the horror they allegedly caused in tandem with the BJP in 2013, their support for the farmer’s cause doesn’t take away from the merits of the farmers protest as a whole.