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Updated: February 25, 2012 03:44 IST

Cane and caste politics in western Uttar Pradesh

Atiq Khan
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Congress president Sonia Gandhi listening to cane farmers recently. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar
Congress president Sonia Gandhi listening to cane farmers recently. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar

Farmers' issues ignored, as parties are more interested in playing caste card

It is often said that the sugarcane-producing districts of western Uttar Pradesh hold the key to electoral success or failure with the 32-lakh cane growers exercising a decisive influence over the poll outcome. Such is the dominance of cane and such is the sway of cane politics — an offshoot of the tussle between growers and private mill owners over the payment of arrears and the State Advisory Price (SAP) — that political parties cannot ignore them.

In the 2007 Assembly elections, the Bahujan Samaj Party won about 65 seats from western U.P., which enabled Mayawati to form a government on her own. The Jatav-Muslim-Vaishya combination worked to her advantage. In fact, elections here have revolved around the Jat-Jatav-Muslim-Gujjar-Vaishya caste equations. Yogesh Dahiya of Sugarcane Farmers' Forum, Saharanpur says, “Voting in western U.P., barring the urban areas, is impacted by sugarcane, but unfortunately farmers' issues are ignored by politicians, who are only interested in playing the caste card. Farmers are fed up with poll promises.”

Mayawati has tried to boost her party's prospects here by wooing rich Jat farmers. To begin with, she hiked the cane price by a whopping Rs. 40 per quintal for the 2011-12 crushing season.

The Feb.11, 2012 judgement of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court upholding the cane price hike has come as a shot in the arm for Mayawati. “I am not a Mayawati supporter but she should be lauded for increasing the cane price to Rs. 250,” says Preetam Chaudhary, one-time secretary to the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Prime Minister, Chaudhary Charan Singh, the man credited with bringing the cane farmers' cause to the forefront. The Jat strongman did this by rallying the support of the Jats, Yadavs. Gujjars and the Muslims.

While the farmers' leader led a strong anti-Congress movement in the region in the 60s, his son and Rashtriya Lok Dal president, Ajit Singh, is today aligned with the Congress and is the Civil Aviation Minister in the UPA Government. The RLD is a major player in the cane belt of Meerut, Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar, Mathura and Bulandshahr districts. It is contesting the 2012 elections in alliance with the Congress and has been given 46 seats, mostly in western U.P.

After Charan Singh, it was Mahendra Singh Tikait and his Bharatiya Kisan Union, who fought for the farmers' cause for about 25 years.

The BKU led by Tikait's elder son, Naresh Baliyan, is today a pale shadow of its former self

With cane growers destined to play a crucial role, the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party are all busy wooing them. But as Sripal Singh, a farmer from Harad Fatehpur village in Muzaffarnagar district says: “Farmers are finding it difficult to hire labourers, and while output is increasing, land under cultivation is declining; no party actually works in the interest of the farmers, in the end it boils down to caste calculations.”

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