In the 2014 national elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, a PhD in veterinary anatomy from the Haryana Agriculture University at Hisar, secured 59 per cent of the votes polled in Muzaffarnagar constituency. His over 4.01-lakh vote victory margin came on the back of communal polarisation, triggered by the riots that ravaged the district in August-September 2013, and the Narendra Modi wave. This time, though, neither “Hindu-Muslim” nor “Modi lehar” seem to be the overriding factors. Instead, “ganna” — unpaid dues to sugarcane growers — has emerged as the key issue in Muzaffarnagar and the adjoining constituencies that vote in the first phase of the current Lok Sabha polls on April 11. Moreover, Balyan is pitted against a formidable candidate fielded by a combined Opposition — Rashtriya Lok Dal president Ajit Singh, who also happens to the son of the Jat icon and former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh. Excerpts from an interview with Balyan:
Do you think the BJP government ignored the cane dues problem in Uttar Pradesh?
Cane arrears were always a problem. It has been so at least from the time I was born.
But the fact is that the dues have crossed Rs 10,000 crore and are twice what they were when your party came to power in UP? Was the Yogi Adityanath government slow to recognise the seriousness of the issue?
All I can say is that payments by most mills in my constituency — whether Khatauli, Mansurpur, Daurala, Tikaula or even Titawi and Rohana — have been generally good. Out of the nine mills (falling under Muzaffarnagar seat), only one — the Budhana unit of Bajaj Hindusthan — has been a chronic defaulter. The real problem of cane dues are in Kairana, Meerut and Baghpat constituencies. The Modinagar and Malakpur factories in Baghpat never paid farmers in time even when chaudharysaab (Ajit Singh) was the Member of Parliament there. Did he do anything about it then? Ultimately, it depends on how much interest an individual MP takes.
Didn’t your party, in its 2017 UP Assembly election manifesto, promise payment to farmers within 14 days of cane delivery?
The 14-day payment rule is actually not vaada (promise), but kanoon (law). Every party has promised to implement this kanoon and failed. We, too, promised and failed. Enforcing it requires taking krantikari kadam (revolutionary steps).
Can you elaborate?
Well, they have to be similar to the two krantikari kadam our government at the Centre has taken. The first was the National Policy on Biofuels (which allows mills to produce ethanol directly from sugarcane juice or intermediate-stage ‘B-molasses’, as opposed to only normal final-stage ‘C’ molasses remaining after maximum recovery of sugar). The second was fixing a minimum sale price (MSP) for sugar. I had been advocating both these steps right from the time we came to power in May 2014. Unfortunately, the government ministries and departments have their own speed of functioning. The Biofuels Policy (enabling cane juice to be diverted for production of ethanol for blending with petrol, instead of overabundant sugar) was adopted in mid-2018, when it should have been finalised at least two years earlier. When I had originally suggested that mills not be permitted to sell sugar below a minimum price, it was considered too radical. But since mid-2018, the Centre has also started fixing the MSP of sugar. Had these steps come earlier, the present crisis wouldn’t have arisen. If cane farmers have to be paid a remunerative price on time, we need more such krantikari kadam. Most politicians fight governments of other parties, whereas I have not hesitated fighting my own government in the interest of farmers.
How do you fancy your chances in this elections?
Sachch poocho toh pata nahi (to tell the truth, I cannot say). From my side, I have visited each of the 600 Gram Panchayats and 750 villages in my constituency at least once in the last five years. I have also organised five agriculture fairs and visits by farm scientists in 168 villages. Besides, the Meerut-Karnal Road passing through Budhana and Shamli (earlier a state highway UP SH-82) and Panipat-Khatima Road connecting Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar and Shamli (previously UP SH-12) have been upgraded to National Highways NH-709A and NH-709AD, respectively. The railway line from Muzaffarnagar to Tapri (Saharanpur) has been doubled and electrified. Whether or not I win, my achievements speak for themselves. I can also take credit for another thing — making chaudharysaab visit more villages in Muzaffarnagar constituency during the past few weeks than he did at Baghpat in the last 30 years! I have earned enough goodwill through my work as MP. Even those not voting for me say that it is their majboori (compulsion) to go with a party and leader identified with their community.