UP: BJP struggling to win over farmers despite farm laws repeal

Trust deficit with the BJP, non-payment of sugarcane dues, stray cattle menace continue to remain concerns
Last Updated 31 December 2021, 04:07 IST

On new year's day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will transfer another tranche of the PM Kisan Nidhi payout to 10 crore farmers. The Modi government has made several attempts at setting a narrative of it being farmer-friendly. However, the issue of farm distress, which Congress leader Rahul Gandhi first raised in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls in 2016, remains the albatross around the neck of Lucknow's "double engine government" as it prepares for the Assembly polls six weeks from now.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strategists had expected the double anti-incumbency Yogi Adityanath government faces in Lucknow - five years of its own and nearly eight years of the Centre's - would subside with the repeal of the three contentious farm laws. But the anger against the government, as repeated opinion polls have indicated, has not abated. Will the disbursement of Rs 2,000 instalment under the PM Kisan Nidhi help assuage UP's farmers and arrest BJP's dipping popularity?

The BJP has put in place "gram sanyojak", or village organisers, for each of the 403 assembly constituencies of UP. These party workers will head out into the villages to explain the "farm-friendly" schemes of the BJP governments in Lucknow and New Delhi. The focus currently is 104 seats of western UP that have sugarcane farmers. The Samajwadi Party (SP)-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance has consistently raised the issue of non-payment of dues to sugarcane farmers, which has struck a chord.

Joblessness and price rise have further fanned the anti-BJP sentiment among farmers. According to official estimates, around 40 lakh farmers grow sugarcane in western UP, which they sell to 120 sugar mills. The Adityanath government tried to mollify farmers by increasing the sugarcane purchase price by Rs 25 per quintal. However, the opposition has continued to flag how sugar mills are yet to clear Rs 2,000 crore in pending dues to the farmers.

In the 2017 Assembly polls, the BJP ended its 14-year "vanavas", or exile, from Lucknow's seat of power on the back of its promise of a farm loan waiver. After the BJP formed the government in Lucknow, it announced a loan waiver of Rs 36,000 crore, claiming to have benefitted 86 lakh farmers. In addition, according to government data, another 2.53 crore farmers in UP have received Rs 6000 annual PM Kisan Nidhi instalments since 2019. The state government has also claimed to improve irrigation in 20 lakh hectares and provided subsidised solar pumps to farmers.

However, as the NSS Situational Assessment Survey has found, farm incomes have increased between 2013 to 2019, but so did indebtedness. If the average increase in farm incomes across the country was Rs 22,932 during this period, it was Rs 14,888 in UP. Similarly, the increase in loans on UP farmers was by Rs 23,807 against the countrywide rise by Rs 27,121.

Farmers also complain of more immediate concerns, for example, that of stray cattle. Stricter anti-cow slaughter vigilance by law enforcement agencies and right-wing groups has increased the number of strays across UP's villages, harming standing crops. According to farmers, their six-monthly expenditure on erecting fences to ward off strays amounts to Rs 10,000. There is also anger at the prosecution of farmers because of the burning of stubble.

Earlier this week, the heads of several Khaps held a meeting in western UP's Shamli, demanding fulfilment of the Centre's promises to agitating farmers in Delhi. They reiterated the demand for a legal guarantee on minimum support price (MSP), withdrawal of cases against farmers registered during the movement, and clearing sugarcane dues. They also opposed the Centre's decision to raise the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years.

There is anticipation the prime minister could announce a farmers' friendly scheme at his mega rally in Lucknow, which is to be held days before the Election Commission announces the poll schedule for UP and four other poll-bound states.

Would that help the BJP sweep UP and bag the massive vote shares it did in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha and 2017 Assembly polls? The BJP's success, at least in western UP, was helped by the communal polarisation after the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar. The RLD, under its leader Jayant Singh Chaudhary, is hopeful of rekindling the political and social alliance between the Jats and Muslims that his grandfather Chaudhary Charan Singh had helped shape.

In the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress swept most seats across India, particularly Uttar Pradesh. At that time, UP sent 85 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The Congress won 83 of those seats with a vote share of more than 50 per cent. Several opposition stalwarts in UP, like Chandra Shekhar and Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, lost their seats. The two seats that the Congress lost in UP were to the Lok Dal - in Baghpat to Charan Singh and the Etah seat, which Mohammed Mahfooz Ali Khan won.

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(Published 31 December 2021, 04:07 IST)

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