“Modi tere raj mein, munji gai byaj mein, aur prali gai sharam-lihaz mein (Modi, under your government, all my paddy crop has gone into paying off debts and the hay had to be donated).” THIS ONE-LINER painted behind a tractor-trailer chugging towards the Shamli sugar factory with a load of sugarcane captures the mood among Jat farmers in the Shamli-Kairana-Muzaffarnagar belt of western Uttar Pradesh, which votes in the first phase of the Assembly elections on February 11.
With payment from sugar factories sluggish, minimum support price for crops stagnant, crop loan debts on the rise and the rabi sowing season impacted by demonetisation, Jat farmers, the dominant votebase in this region, are up in arms against the BJP. So much so, that almost all Khap panchayats here have declared that they will vote to defeat the BJP, this time.
Jats had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the party in the 2014 parliamentary polls and were instrumental in BJP’s clean sweep in this part of the state. But, on January 8, around 35 Khap leaders and thousands of Jats from UP and Haryana gathered at Kharad in Muzaffarnagar, under the banner of Jat Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti, to declare that the community would not vote for the BJP again.
The rally was significant for its presence of Muslim Jats and speeches in which the BJP was accused of spreading communal hatred. And, although the key concern expressed at the rally was the denial of reservation to Jats, much of the talk among community leaders is also about problems plaguing the farming sector, lack of visible development and the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots.
“There is a lot of anger among Jats against the Narendra Modi government. Not only has it denied reservation to Jats, none of the development promised has come about. Just go out and see, has anything changed? The farmer is suffering. Modi promised so much that we ended up defeating our own Ajit Singh (Rashtriya Lok Dal). It won’t happen again,” says Chaudhary Subhash Baliyan, 48, Sarva Khap Mahamantri, which covers 365 Khaps in UP and Haryana.
Baliyan says that the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 gave a lease of life to BJP in western UP, “but the price had to be paid by Jats”. “Our children are in jails. Is the BJP helping them get justice? Once their leaders became ministers, no one came to visit us. Among Muslims, the poorest bore the brunt. Haven’t they contributed to India’s freedom struggle? The BJP just wants us to keep fighting among ourselves,” he says.
This sentiment is echoed by Chaudhary Harkishan Singh of Gathwala Khap, one of the bigger Khaps in UP, with 52 villages under it. “They precipitated the riots. Once it was over, we were left to fend for ourselves. We are ruing our decision to vote the BJP to power. The Jat’s political identity is linked to Ajit Singh and that’s where they will go this time,” claims the 89-year-old, who admits that he is an accused in several cases related to the Muzaffarnagar riots. Harkishan was represented by his son Rajender Malik at the Kharad rally.
Chaudhary Naresh Tikait, chief of Balyan Khap that holds sway over 84 villages in UP, is not as vocal as the others but does not hide his displeasure with the Centre. “I don’t want to say who should be voted for and who shouldn’t. But it is not just Jats, the farmer community as a whole is not happy with the Modi government. We feel cheated. We had expected sugar exports to be eased and sugarcane prices to go up to Rs 450 a quintal. We are also not getting the right price for our crops. None of what we expected has been delivered and on top of that, demonetisation has reduced farmers to poverty. This government has completely ignored farmers.”
Most Jats say that even though they are not happy with the Samajwadi Party, which they accuse of playing a partisan role in the riots, they would go with it if there is an alliance of SP, RLD and Congress. The common refrain for going with RLD is: “Ajit kam se kam shor to machaega kisano ke liye (Ajit will at least make some noise for the farmers).”
“The idea is to teach the BJP a lesson. Jats will go with whoever can achieve that. In that sense, at least, Jats and Muslims are together in these polls,” says Chaudhary Jeetender Singh Hooda of Hooda Khap, which has 10 villages under it.
Khap leaders such as Chaudhary Sanjay Kalkhande, 55-year-old chief of Kalkhande Khap that has 12 villages under it, are ready to vote for an SP candidate if the RLD and SP tie up. “We have to agree that (UP Chief Minister) Akhilesh Yadav has done some development work. At least, roads have been built. Mulayam Singh Yadav, too, has spoken for farmers. The BJP is only interested in dividing society. They did it in UP first, then in Haryana,” says Kalkhande.
Hooda, however, is the most vocal on farmers’ issues. “The BJP had said in its manifesto that farmers would get a price that is one and-a-half times their input cost. While input cost has almost doubled since then, prices are stagnant. Demonetisation has severely impacted farm incomes. We were forced to sell our Basmati paddy at 60 per cent of what we usually get. Similarly, jaggery sold for Rs 2,200 a quintal against the expected price of Rs 3,400,” he says.
This Khap leader was also critical of the import-duty waiver on wheat when “the country had a decent harvest”. “It was the time for Indian farmers to earn. But the government wanted to help foreign farmers. BJP will pay,” he says.
Chaudhary Surajmal, 81, of Battisa Khap, which covers 32 villages, is concerned — and angry. “Modi’s concern for farmers is limited to his speeches. Nothing happens on the ground. Earlier, MSP would be increased every year. But ever since Modi has come to power, it hasn’t increased even once. Same is the case with price for sugarcane, which has increased only once by Rs 25 in the past few years and, that too, thanks to Akhilesh Yadav,” says Surajmal.
These leaders say that Jat farmers were expecting an announcement on farm-loan waiver from the Prime Minister on December 31, 2016. “That it hasn’t come across and interest-free loans given to sugar mills has not translated into clearing of farmers’ dues has disappointed us,” says Chaudhary Rajinder Singh, 80, chief of Deswal Khap, with sway over 60 villages stretching to Aligarh and Mathura.
“In his speeches, the Prime Minister says payment to sugarcane farmers has been cleared. We haven’t received anything. Where has the money gone? He is paying mills. No one is paying us. This government is that of industrialists, not farmers,” claims Singh.
The mood among Jats in these parts is so bitter that they are not even ready to credit the government for the cross-LoC surgical strikes. “What has it achieved? Attacks by terrorists have continued. Under no government have so many soldiers died,” says Surajmal.
The other big fear here is the threat of Income Tax raids, post demonetisation. “We are not well-read. We don’t understand this cashless system. Anyone can fool us. For every transaction and payment now, PAN card has to be furnished. They will soon begin to ask for tax from us,” says Singh.
According to him, while the common man has suffered hardship, “demonetisation has turned all black money into white”. “Tell me, has corruption ended. Go anywhere even today, no work is going to get done without paying a bribe,” he claims. Almost in exasperation, this Jat leader closes the argument in quintessential style: “Kisan ka na koi khata, na Modi se ab koi naata (Farmer has no bank account and he will now have no connection with Modi).”
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