In an interview with The Indian Express, Minister of State for Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, two-time Muzaffarnagar MP and Jat leader Sanjeev Balyan says the farm Bills don’t affect the farmers of western UP, that the government has “enough time” ahead of the elections and dismisses the protests he faced in the region as being “politically motivated”.
What has the impact of the farmers’ agitation been on the BJP?
There is some impact, certainly. But we have enough time (ahead of elections). These farm bills, against which the farmers of Punjab and Haryana have been protesting, do not affect us (farmers of western UP) much. It’s more an emotional issue for the Jat community. We do not have APMC mandis in western Uttar Pradesh. There is already a contract system in place between the sugar farmers and mills in these areas.
Do you think if the UP Police had not tried to evict protesters from the Ghazipur border on January 28, the agitation would not have spread? Do you think this issue could have been handled better?
Honestly speaking, it’s true. Whether it could have been avoided, only the (Uttar Pradesh) Chief Minister can answer that.
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You said the protests are over an emotional issue. How are you going to deal with that?
We have been going to people, telling them these laws won’t affect us (the farmers of UP). In fact, we are going to benefit from them. In India, it’s only in Punjab and Haryana that middlemen procure foodgrains. In Uttar Pradesh, we have no mandi system. We are telling people all this. It might take time, but people will understand. Jats are emotional people. They get angry but they also understand issues.
This is a region where the BJP has benefited electorally from the polarisation between Jats and Muslims. Will their coming together on the farmers’ issue damage the BJP’s prospects?
Look at the political history of this region. Have Muslims ever voted for Jats? It’s true that Choudhary Charan Singh and the Lok Dal used to field Muslim candidates and the Jats used to vote for them. But Muslims never voted for Jat candidates even then. It was always one way. It was the BJP that gave the Jats significant representation. We have 14 MLAs and two MLCs — of whom four are ministers in the Uttar Pradesh assembly — four MPs and a central minister. Now the farmers are together because it’s an issue related to farmers. It’s not a Jat agitation; it’s a farmers’ agitation… why make it about one community?
Pending sugarcane payment seems to be a big issue in these parts.
There are 1,019 sugar mills in Uttar Pradesh, of which 29-30 mills delay the payments. But I can say the situation has improved a lot since the BJP came into power. It’s true that there is a law that says farmers have to be paid within 14 days of the mills purchasing their produce. It’s also true that we promised farmers we would implement it… All parties made that promise. I know we have not been able to do it cent per cent. There has to be action on this. I have been talking about it. I have taken it up with the Chief Minister and the central government. The other issues will be resolved once this is done.
Elections are a different ballgame. People don’t vote on one issue. In Uttar Pradesh, law and order has improved, roads are better, etc… We have to put all this before the people.
You had to face public anger in some of the areas you visited. After the clash at Shoron, you called it a conspiracy and said there were announcements from the masjid.
It was politically motivated. Those associated with the RLD organised it. When five-six people get together and shout slogans and attack you, how’s that public anger?
Your party had asked you to reach out to farmers and campaign on the issue two weeks ago. Have you made any progress?
You can see the progress for yourself from the crowd at the border. We have nothing against farmer leaders. We keep telling our people about our stand.
The protests seem to have given a new lease of life to opposition parties?
Yes, certainly. They did not have any issue with which to go to people — neither Priyanka Gandhi, who does political tourism in UP, nor the RLD. They had vanished from the scene. But now they are shooting their guns from farmers’ shoulders.
You have some very senior farmer leaders in your party — Rajnath Singh, Narendra Singh Tomar, you and many others. Do you think you could have managed this better if you had reached out to farmers before the laws came in?
See, there were talks, but you are right, there could have been more talks. There was scope for more talks. I am not part of that ministry, so I don’t know how much consultation happened. When I was in MoS in the Agriculture Ministry in 2014, I asked for a list of farmer leaders. I was surprised that there was not a single real farmer leader on the list. All of them were the kinds you see on TV… I got the list changed. So these problems happen at the bureaucratic level. There could have been more consultations, more things would have come into the public domain, things would have been clearer. I don’t know who was consulted, there could have been more consultations with all stakeholders. That’s the beauty of democracy — any work should be in consultation with others, whether it is with paksh or vipaksh.
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