Politics News

Farm Laws Gone, Farmers in West UP Want Relief in Electricity, Diesel Prices; ‘Identity Issue’ Keeps BJP in the Hunt

Hoardings of RLD’s Jayant Chaudhary dot the landscape at all roads and intersections in Muzafarnagar. The farm laws may be on their way out but high electricity and diesel rates remain major issues for farmers here who say the price rise has eaten into the modest hike in sugarcane procurement price announced by the state government this year.

Chaudhary has not missed any opportunity to remind the farmers of this, but in the end, it is the identity issue which still seems to be paramount in western Uttar Pradesh.

“The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) raises our issues. It is a party of our community. But if they ally with the Samajwadi Party (SP) as we hear, we are not sure…” say a group of Jat farmers led by Avtar Singh in Karaunda village, loading their sugarcane crop onto tractors on Sunday.

Many still see the SP as a party that does appeasement politics in favour of Muslims, the reason why the Jats moved away to the BJP after the 2013 Muzafarnagar riots. Chaudhary, through Bhaichara Sammelans (unity conventions) across west UP, has tried to bridge this trust gulf between Jats and Muslims, but the BJP, too, does not miss out on any opportunity to reinforce the identity issue.

“The farmers of west UP will never stand with the rioters. They know what the Samajwadi Party has done in the past. They also know what historic steps the Modi-Yogi governments have taken for their benefit,” BJP state secretary, looking closely at west UP, Chandra Mohan told News18. Another senior BJP leader in Delhi said the RLD’s influence is limited to five-six seats in three west UP districts where a section of the Jats backs them. “The fact is that the Jats have never entirely voted for the BJP in west UP even in recent polls. The Kashyaps, Saini, Brahmin and Prajapati community farmers are the ones with the BJP strongly,” this leader said. Such farmers still back the BJP on account of good law and order.

PM Narendra Modi and the BJP, whom the farmers in west UP have backed fully in elections since 2014, just two days ago scrapped the three farm laws that were also bothering the farmers here. “It was an irritant. The contract farming law would have given more leeway to private sugarcane mill owners who are right now bound to purchase our crop entirely at a state-fixed price. So we are happy that they (farm laws) are gone. But what farmers really wanted in west UP was guaranteed Minimum Support Price (MSP). Farmers in UP hardly get it on rice and wheat. Will the BJP give it?” ask Suresh Singh and Veerpal Singh, smoking away the hookah in Titavi, where Chaudhary held a rally on Saturday.

The Power Point

News18 spoke to multiple farmers in west UP who had one constant complaint — the high power bills. They claim the tube-well bills were less than Rs 500 per month in the earlier regime, but have risen to over Rs 2,000 a month now. Some do say that the electricity supply has improved, and so has law and order, but the high bills bother most.

Chaudhary is harping on the same. “They are putting bigger meters on your tube-wells. We will waive off all old bills and halve future bills,” Chaudhary says at his rallies.

The Congress under Priyanka Gandhi has made a similar promise, and her hoardings announce the same. Farmers also complain of stray cattle, pointing out how the urad crop has been destroyed.

“Farmers should get subsidy on diesel. They are unable to afford the fuel price,” BKU leader Naresh Tikait told News18.

Farmers do get sugarcane dues on time now, which the BJP sees in its favour compared to previous regimes, but Chaudhary is now impressing upon farmers that the BJP government may soon remove the clause that dues must be cleared within 14 days or farmers will be entitled to late payment penalty. “They have sent the proposal to NITI Aayog,” Chaudhary says at his rallies.

The BJP leaders say their election campaign will settle all doubts, beginning with Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s trip to west UP this month to address the party’s booth presidents.

Why BJP is Still in the Game

RLD leaders point to the big crowd at Chaudhary’s rallies to claim the mood has changed in west UP. At present, when sugarcane crop is being harvested and taken to sugar mills, one can hardly expect farmers to spare time for a rally but they are still coming, RLD leader Birpal Malik said.

But the alliance with the Samajwadi Party is still to be sealed as the RLD now wants more seats of its choice while the SP also wants to make a bigger foray into west UP, an area where the BSP was traditionally strong before the BJP started sweeping it in 2014.

In 2019, when SP, BSP and RLD allied, both the Chaudhary father-son duo lost the seats they contested in their stronghold. Some farmers, hence, thought the RLD-Congress alliance may in fact be more potent in west UP in the 2022 Assembly polls, given they are raising similar issues.

But the BJP still has an ace up its sleeve — the wider identity card. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath made a statement when he visited Kairana in west UP last month, dined at the house of a Hindu family which had migrated earlier, and left little to imagination that the majority community had his full backing. BJP leaders insist that Jats in west UP may have their share of complaints, as they had in 2017 or 2019, but in the end they will still side with the BJP as the only alternative.

“They will not side with the Samajwadi Party. The Congress (in 2017) and RLD (in 2019) have tied up with SP to learn it the hard way in west UP. Nothing will be different this time either,” a BJP leader said.

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