New Delhi: Since June 6, when Madhya Pradesh burst out on national television screens and newspaper front-pages, one kept hearing a name — Kakkaji. All queries made about the ongoing violent farmer protests kept leading to him.
Shiv Kumar Sharma, nicknamed Kakkaji, is the angry farmer leader who has been railing against the government for last several years and, as many believe, is the person behind the ongoing violent farmer stir.
Though he distances himself from the violence in the ongoing stir, he doesn't shy from claiming credit for bringing farmers from far flung areas together. "This was just phase 1 of our bigger plan. Phase 2 is yet to start," he claims, adding that elaborate plans for these protests were made back in January.
For this, he is going to hold a meeting with 62 farmer bodies on Friday in the capital. According to close aides of Sharma, he managed to reach Delhi on Thursday evening for Friday's mega meeting.
The 65 years old farmer-activist has been associated with an RSS backed farmer outfit, sacked after his repeated attacks on the BJP-led government in the state, and, by his own admission, jailed 44 times.
He started out as a student activist back in 1971. It was in Jabalpur University where he studied from 1971 to 1977 as a law student, doing MA LLB where he first dabbled in activism, first by holding protests for farmers' rights and later providing them legal assistance pro bono.
"Then in 1981 I took up a job in the state's legal aid department. My first posting was in Bastar, where I fought for the land rights of adivasis. But the higher authorities did not like my attitude. I was transferred thrice, till I finally left my job," Sharma says.
He then started a farmers' magazine called 'Kisan Ganga' with his own money. But the magazine didn't take off and he lost the 2 acres of land he had mortgaged to fund the magazine.
This is the time, in 1998, when he joined RSS backed farmers' outfit — Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. He claims to have worked in Sangh affiliate for two years without realising that it was run by RSS. "I didn’t know. Nowhere in their documents did they say that BKS was run by RSS. After two years, I got to know," Sharma says.
But that didn't stop him from working for the Sangh affiliate for the nine more years.
Another farmer activist Suresh Gurjar, a national executive committee member of BKS, remembers his association with Sharma. "He was active from his student days and during his time strengthened and built from scratch our outfit in over 50 districts in Madhya Pradesh, which is why the organisation made him its state president. There is no doubt about his integrity and honesty. Only I feel that he is hogging all the limelight. Others like me have also worked for farmers. But we aren't talked about as much."
Shiv Kumar Sharma, nicknamed Kakkaji, is the angry farmer leader who has been railing against the government for last several years.
With BJP being in power in Madhya Pradesh for the last 15 years, the period in which over 18000 farmers committed suicide in the state, there may not have been much scope for the RSS-led farmer outfits to protest against status-quo. That's when Shiv Kumar Sharma made his mark.
He led two huge movements against the state government in 2010 and 2012.
"The first time around, I brought the whole state capital to a halt for three days. We arrived in Bhopal with some 15000 tractors and practically laid siege to it. Then the Chief Minister agreed to meet us and said that our demand letter was holy Gita for him. But he never implemented it, which is why two years later we launched a second agitation," Sharma said.
The 2012 agitation in Bareilly was more violent. The violence was solely provoked by police, he claims, where one farmer lost his life and several rounds were fired.
After his second protest, Sharma was sacked from BKS. He went on to found his own farmer rights body — Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh. This is the body behind most of the protests in Madhya Pradesh today.
A person close to Sharma claims that the firebrand farmer activist has always felt a threat to his life since. "Even today he feels that the state is out to kill him. Although Kakkaji doesn't fear death but the threat is real to him."
Sharma claims that he never intended the current agitation to get violent. "We have always heard about the farmer killing himself. Never will you hear about a farmer killing anyone else. This is not what we set out to achieve. Some anti-social elements, vandals and looters joined the protest somewhere down the line and they need to be identified and acted upon. We farmers never hurt anyone," he says.
When asked about rumours that some opposition parties are behind the protests, he says, “We in a group of 500 farmers, 25 can be from Congress. So what can we do? Should we identify all the farmers with Congress and show them the door. Some may have political affiliation to BJP, should we do the same to them?”
But he doesn't deny that he has been in touch with several political parties. "They have all approached me at some time is all I can say."
Nevertheless, he will continue to lead the protest in Madhya Pradesh. "We had planned to hold protests in the Malwa region from June 1 to 10. Farmer protests that you are seeing are part of this plan. Now in the second phase, we will take the protests to Mahakaushal region [Bundelkhand, Baghelkhand, Rewa, Jabalpur — 22 districts in all]."
With Madhya Pradesh smoldering from over a week long violent farmer agitation, police is unlikely to let Sharma plan and take off a next round of protest in Madhya Pradesh. And with Assembly elections scheduled next year, the government may not want to crackdown and annoy the farmers either. Both parties will be watching each other's steps. Who makes the first move will be interesting to watch.ALSO READ: Six Farmers Killed in Police Firing During Protests in Madhya Pradesh