Mahendra Singh Tikait was a renowned farmers’ leader of India who spearheaded several movements in the interest of farmers.
Mahendra Singh Tikait was born on Sunday, 6 October 1935 (age 75 years; at the time of death) in Sisauli village, located in Muzaffarnagar District of Uttar Pradesh. It is the ancestral village of the Tikait family. Tikait studied at a high school in his village till class 7 and then left studies to take charge of his responsibilities.
Height (approx): 6′ 2″
Eye Colour: Black
Hair Colour: Grey
Family & Caste
Mahendra Singh Tikait belonged to the Jaat community. India Today
Parents & Siblings
Mahendra Tikait’s father’s Chauhal Singh, a farmer and the Chaudhary (head) of Baliyan Khap, died in 1943. Tikait’s mother’s name was Mukhtyari Devi.
Wife & Children
Mahendra Tikait got married to Baljori Devi while he was a teenager.
They have four sons and two daughters. The eldest son is Naresh Tikait, who is the Chaudhary (head) of Baliyan Khap Panchayat and president of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).
The second-eldest is Rakesh Tikait, who is the national spokesperson of Bharatiya Kisan Union since 1997.
The third-eldest is Surendra Tikait, who is a manager at a sugar mill in Meerut, and the youngest son is Narendra Tikait, who handles the work in fields.
Baliyan Khap is a union of Jaats of Baliyan Gotra living in more than 80 villages in western Uttar Pradesh. The Khap has existed in India since the 7th century. Mahendra Singh Tikait inherited the leadership of Baliyan Khap at a mere age of 8. It was a responsibility of heading a union of Jaats of Baliyan Gotra living in more than 80 villages in western Uttar Pradesh. He was given the throne at such a tender age in accordance with a rule of Baliyan Khap that says that only elder son of Baliyan head will acquire his post after he dies. While heading the Baliyan Khap, Chaudhary Tikait contributed significantly to controlling social evils such as dowry, domestic violence, and female infanticide. The hereditary title of Tikait was reportedly conferred on his family by a seventh-century Jaat emperor of Thanesar Harshavardhan in the. Since then, the title is being carried by the eldest son of the Tikait family. However, every male member in the Mahendra Singh Tikait’s family is using the Tikait surname.
Taking Command of BKU
Formed by Mahendra Singh Tikait on 17 October 1986, Bhartiya Kisan Union or BKU is a non-political farmers’ organisation that succeeded Punjab Khetibari Union (PKU), founded by Chaudhary Charan Singh in 1978. The organisation was formed to counter farmers’ oppression in the country. Here is a backstory of how Mahendra Singh Tikait was elected as the president of BKU. In the year 1986, farmers from all over Uttar Pradesh were agitated against the hike in electricity tariffs. They also demanded waiver of water and electricity dues, higher remunerative prices for sugarcane produce, fair prices of crops, etc. The need for a farmers’ organisation was then realised as they were unable to pressurise the state government to meet their demands. On 17 October 1986, a maha panchayat was held in Sisauli, which was attended by several Khap heads and thousands of peasants and peasant representatives belonging to all castes and religions. Consecutively, Chaudhary Mahendra Singh Tikait was unanimously given the command of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) as its national president.
Major Famers’ Movements
Tikait didn’t overnight become a messiah of Indian farmers, he grew in stature with the relentless stand that he took for agriculturers. He spent his entire life fighting for the rights of farmers. During his 25 years tenure as president of BKU, Tikait demonstrated more than 60 farmers’ movements. Here are a few major farmer movements led by Chaudhary Mahendra Singh Tikait.
- Shamli Protest 1987: This was the first major protest that took place under the banner of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU). Over 3 lakh farmers gathered in Shamli on the call of Mahendra Singh Tikait. The reason for the protest was the rise in the tariff of electricity supply to tube-wells.
The crowd at the protest site turned violent, which caused the protest to end.
- Boat Club Rally 1988: Whenever farmer movements led by Mahendra Singh Tikait are recalled, the October 1988 Boat Club protest comes first on the list. An entire army of over 5 lakh farmers wearing kurta-pyjama poured at Delhi’s Boat Club, Baba Tikait was a prominent face among the people leading them.
The rally that was planned for a day turned into a sit-in protest and continued for a week until the Rajiv Gandhi government bowed to BKU’s demands that included increasing prices for sugarcane procurement and a waiver of power and water charges for farmers.
Apart from leading farmers’ agitations, Tikait also organised huge Kisan panchayats every year at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, from 2001 to 2010 to address various issues faced by farmers.
Naiyma Lao Movement
In August 1989, Baba Tikait initiated an agitation against the kidnapping and murder of a Muslim girl, Naiyma, hailing from Sikri village of Muzaffarnagar district. Under the leadership of Tikait, thousands of farmers gathered on the banks of Ganga Canal at Bhopa demanding the state government to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. The protestors also gheraoed a local police station. Although the movement continued for 40 days, the girl’s killers were never found. The movement helped Tikait gain a stature of a powerful secular leader.
On 30 March 2008, Mahendra Singh Tikait allegedly passed a derogatory casteist remark against the BSP supremo Mayawati while delivering a speech at a farmers’ rally in Bijnor. On 1 April 2008, Mayawati, who was then the CM of Uttar Pradesh, sent a team of 300 policemen to arrest Tikait under the SC/ST act. Police went to the village but could not arrest Tikait as his supporters resisted their entry. The next day, Tikait negotiated a peaceful surrender before Bijnor court and was released on bail after he issued an apology saying “My utterances were a mistake.” India Today
After a prolonged battle with bone cancer, the 75-year-old legendry Jat farmer leader Chaudhary Mahendra Singh Tikait took his last breath at 7:08 pm on 15 May 2011.
- The veteran farmer leader was known for his simplicity. He used to sit and eat food among the farmers. Even during the movements, he used to sit among the farmers instead of the stage. Tikait would go to the stage only to deliver his speech and then return to his spot in the crowd.
- Mahendra Singh Tikait was the owner of the tremendous personality. Such was his clout that he did not need to knock on the door of government to negotiate on his demands, instead, prominent political leaders themselves used to come to him.
- During his early days, Tikait used to move with a gun hanging on his shoulder or armed men moving by his side.
- Hookah was so dear to Baba Tikait that he once refused to board a flight when the executives at IGI Airport were not permitting him to carry a hookah along with him. Replying to one of the executives there, he said in a typical desi style,
देख भाई बात ऐसी है, जे हवाई जहाज़ मैं होकाह ना जावेगा ते फेर मै भी ना जाऊं।
Eventually, the airport authority had to grant him special permission to board the flight along with his hookah. Here is a detailed Hindi article narrating the anecdote.
- Even after being a formidable leader in North India, Mahendra Singh Tikait chose to remain away from electoral politics.
- Poster of a film ‘Tikait: Ek Kisan Messiah’ based on Baba Tikait’s life was released on his 8th death anniversary in 2019. The film is written, produced, and directed by members of Baliyan Khap.