On Thursday afternoon, protesting farmers believed they would soon be vacating the Ghazipur border protest site. A few hours later, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait broke down, and everything changed.
Policemen in heavy numbers were descending on the protest site since morning in the aftermath of the January 26 violence. Soon news came in that the Ghaziabad District Magistrate had issued a verbal ultimatum to farmers asking them to clear the site by midnight or be removed forcefully. The protest site had already been plagued by power cuts and disruptions in water supply since Wednesday. With the DM’s order, the exit signs became clearer.
In the evening Bharatiya Kisan Union leaders, many of them accused of instigating the Republic Day violence, reached the Ghazipur site to address the crowds.Named in multiple FIRs, BKU national spokesperson Rakesh Tikait took to the stage and said that he will not surrender and will even call more people to join the protest if needed.
As soon as left the stage to face the media anticipating another speech, Tikait broke down. He sobbed on national television and told reporters that he would rather commit suicide than leave and end the protest against the farm laws. “We want to court arrest peacefully. But it seems there is a plan to stir violence while protesters return. If there is any such plan, I will remain here. I will face the bullet,” Rakesh Tikait said.
His tears became ammunition for a thinning protest. Soon, hundreds of followers gathered outside Rakesh Tikait’s house in UP’s Sisauli, chanting slogans in his support. His brother Naresh Tikait, the chief of the BKU who had earlier agreed to clear out the Ghazipur site, announced a mahapanchayat in stronghold Muzaffarnagar to decide the future course of action.
Several videos shaming supporters for abandoning a leader who stood for them and was now left crying surfaced on social media.The warcry had an impact. By 11 pm, the numbers at Ghazipur once again started to swell. Groups of farmers from Meerut, Baraut, Baghpat and Muradnagar reached the site to lend their support to Rakesh Tikait.
The Rashtriya Jat Mahasangh also reached Ghazipur to extend their solidarity to farmers. “This is a fight against the death of our farmers. By morning, thousands of farmers will be here,” Rohit Jakhar, a Jat leader said.