Seated inside a cowshed in Tikri, the epicentre of farmers’ protest against the central agri laws, Joginder Singh Ugrahan points towards a pile of green-yellow flex boards lying at a corner as he rebuts the allegations labelling him an “anti-national”.
The flex boards carry the pictures of poets, writers and scholars jailed for alleged Maoist links. “We don’t have any Maoist link. Our fight is against the black central legislations. If raising voice for the farmers is anti-national, I won’t mind being called one,” says the 75-year-old soldier-turned-farmer and the president of BKU (Ugrahan), Punjab’s biggest farmer union.
Ugrahan and thousands of his supporters were labelled “Maoists” in social media posts after hoardings supporting the jailed activists surfaced at a protest recently.
“It’s not the first time we have raised voice for these jailed activists. Posters seeking their release were installed at toll plazas too over the past two months. All the 32 farmer unions are supporting this demand… Punjab has a rich tradition of speaking against injustice. We protested against the NRC as well,” he maintains.
Busy charting future course with other leaders at the ‘gaushala’, three rooms of which have been turned into his union’s headquarters, Ugrahan says, “We run our office from a ‘gaushala’. They may find some Maoist link in this (cowshed) too.”
Pointing towards another union leader, Shingara Singh Maan, he claims all their actions in the past over three decades have been for the betterment of farmers.
“It’s the easiest way to get rid of the protesters. Call them anti-national to change public discourse! How can ‘annadata’, who feeds the nation, go against the nation? The ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ slogan seems to have been long forgotten,” he says. Ugrahan says though their struggle is solely against the three laws, the government fears that the “struggle that started with the farmers may definitely not end only with the farmers”. The BKU (Ugrahan), meanwhile, has expressed willingness to join the ‘Sanjha Kisan Morcha’ that represents 32 farm outfits. “We are ready to join them unconditionally. We (various unions) may have differences on some issues, but these cannot be bigger than the common cause of farmers,” says Joginder Singh Ugrahan.