Western UP farmers say they have become aware of their rights due to the protest and will vote on them
The year-long farmers’ protest against the three farm laws and on granting a legal status to minimum support price (MSP) is likely to play a role when farmers from western Uttar Pradesh (UP) cast their votes February 10, 2022.
The 2020-21 protest and several mahapanchayats during that time saw a high participation from Jat-dominated districts of western UP such as Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Baghpat.
The movement once again brought to the fore the core issue of fair and remunerative prices to farmers for their produce. MSP, along with sugarcane dues and the stray cattle menace, have now become the major issues on which farmers say they will be voting in the state assembly elections.
Read Down To Earth’s coverage of farmers’ protests
The first phase of UP assembly elections will see 58 seats from 11 western UP districts going to the polls February 10.
MSP has become a big issue now, Chandraveer from Daha village in Baghpat district told Down To Earth. “For an MSP of Rs 2,015 per quintal of wheat, farmers in UP mandis (wholesale markets) get only Rs 1,500,” Chandraveer said.
Farmers in UP have not been getting fair prices for their wheat and paddy crops for years, owing to inefficient working of the mandis.
Many of them also take their produce to mandis in Haryana to get the declared MSP. However, they say that the year-long protest has brought the issue into the limelight again.
Nitin Kajla, a 30-year-old organic farmer from Meerut’s Bhatipura village, said what the protest did was spread more awareness about the agrarian crisis.
“An average farmer is more aware now. And the alliance (Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal) has made a good base on the issues here. The trend is anti-incumbency, at least in western UP,” he said.
He also said the schemes started for promotion of organic farming were not efficient.
“There is no government support in organic farming. The subsidised inputs are low quality and we have to buy those from the market at full price,” Kalja, who grows sugarcane, wheat, paddy, mustard and pulses on his 2.4-hectare (ha) land, said.
Sudhir Tomar, a farmer owning 5.5 ha in Ranchad village in Baghpat said farmers were anguished over the labels thrown at them during the protest:
Some were calling us Khalistanis, some separatists; we farmers were very troubled by this. There will be an impact of the protest in the elections.
For him, the two major agricultural issues currently are stray cattle and pending sugarcane dues. He has around Rs 1.5 lakh pending as payment from sugarcane mills for 2021. The last payment came in March 2021.
A total of Rs 3,753 crore is pending to be paid to state farmers for the sugar season 2020-21, according to a government reply in the Rajya Sabha December 6, 2021. Sugarcane is the primary crop in western UP districts.
Another farmer, who did not wish to be named, said when there is a surplus cane crop and mills cannot absorb all of it, “the farmers have to make distress sales in the market for Rs 270-280 per quintal of an Rs 350 per quintal crop.”
However, Kaluram Chaudhary from Kamhera village in Muzaffarnagar said frequency of payments had improved since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power.
“Payments have become better. All pending dues were cleared on January 14 for our village. Maybe it was because of the elections, but things are running smoothly. Electricity in the farms and villages has also improved after the BJP came to power,” he said.
But his friend Sonu Chaudhary said even though the pending dues came in January, the State Advisory Price (SAP) of sugarcane had not changed much over the last five years, despite an increase in inflation.
The SAP was hiked by Rs 25 per quintal in 2017, when the Yogi Adityanath government came to power, and for the second time in September 2021, again by Rs 25 per quintal, bringing it to Rs 350 per quintal.
“But what about all those years in between,” Sonu Chaudhary asked. He added that the cost of cultivation per quintal came to about Rs 450.
He also said farmers were angry that the state ministers and members of the legislative assembly did not try to connect with farmers during the tenure of the government.
“They have no link with the people. The government just asks votes in the name of (Prime Minister) Modi,” he said.
Kalja said young or first-time voters in the villages were also frustrated with the rising unemployment and lack of any job opportunities. He, however, added that despite these issues, there was no clear anti-incumbency wave as it was seen during 2017 when the BJP won.
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