In U.P., united by grievances but divided over political options

Raj Bahadur Tyagi and Omkar Tyagi, both farmers from Bijnor in western Uttar Pradesh, have a long list of grievances against the BJP government, for which they voted in the last two elections. Inflation, low procurement prices for crops, rising electricity bills and costs of fuel and stray cattle menace are just some of the problems.

“Ready crop is destroyed in just one night. You tell me, if you raise a child and take care of it. But he goes away, what will your heart go through,” asked Mr. Tyagi referring to crop loss.

Farmers faced a drastic choice between taking up labour work, starving or taking their own lives, added Mr. Raj Bahadur Tyagi, who owns around 15 bighas (less than four hectares) of land and is affiliated to the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) of Rakesh Tikait.

His colleague Omkar Tyagi, seated next to him at the Eco Garden park in Lucknow, also feels the BJP has betrayed farmers. He says he voted for the BJP hoping it would provide farmers their rights, double their income and waive off their debts. Instead, he says the BJP increased costs of living and farming and did not take any step to increase the income of farmers. The recent hike of ₹25 in sugarcane price by the Yogi Adityanath-led government is too little, too late, he reckons.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement last week that the three contentions farm laws would be repealed has also not placated the two farmers, among the hundreds at the kisan mahapanchayat called by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha in Lucknow on Monday.

Farmers defamed

“This government forced farmers to come out to the streets. When they said that the protestors were Pakistanis and Khalistanis and only a handful among them were actual farmers, then why did the government bow to these handful of farmers? Farmers will not vote them at any cost now,” said Mr Omkar Tyagi.

Echoing their disillusionment, fellow protestor Asaram Yadav dismisses the BJP as a “party of banias.” The three assert they would pick Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav as the next CM of UP.

With the government promising to repeal the three contentious farm laws, farm outfits have now pressed the demand for a law guaranteeing minimum support price among other issues.

Those attending the mahapanchayat, cutting across caste and socio-economic position, indeed shared general grievances against the BJP government. But their points of concern, degree of hostility towards the ruling party and political preferences varied, often mirroring traditional affiliations. There did not appear to be any larger unanimity, as of yet, on the political choices the protestors would exercise in 2022 Assembly polls or consolidation in favour of an Opposition party or against the ruling BJP.

Under the Dihadi Mazdoor Sangathan, a banner in red offering “full support” to the protest by the SKM, Dinu Sahu, who also voted BJP, and others are demanding better working facilities, including “designated addas” for masons to protect them from police harassment.

Poorer but safer

Hailing from Bahraich, Mr. Sahu says his wages have eroded given the rising inflation. But he is quick to add, it does feel safer to work as a mason in U.P. under the BJP.

“Goondaism is over. We are not tense when we go out. Earlier our sisters and daughters did not feel safe stepping out,” says Mr. Sahu, who also praises the government for providing free foodgrains to labourers during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Though he is critical of inflation and offers support to the demands of the farmer outfits, overall, he says the BJP has done “90% well”. He will vote for the BJP again in 2022.

His colleague Ramdas Maurya, also an OBC like Mr. Sahu, complains about inflation and poor wages. But he agrees that there was more goondaism under the previous SP government. “The atmosphere now is better but there is so much price rise. We also did not get any ration previously or cash for farming,” he said, stressing that “Yogi [Adityanath] is bound to return.”

Change belied

The Jatavs, U.P.’s largest Dalit caste, and the traditional core support base of the BSP, at the protest were overtly critical of the BJP.

Raghuraj, a Jatav farmer with a small holding from Kanpur Dehat, pressed the need for a law on MSP and punched holes into the development claims of the BJP government. He says he did not get a house and his three sons are still unemployed, relying on their small farm and agricultural labour for a living. “This government must go,” he says.

Ram Vilas, another Jatav, says the stray cattle issue has hit him hard and he wastes entire nights trying to save his crops from the marauding cattle.

“I managed to get only 2.5 quintal of wheat from two bighas of land. How will this work,” he asked.

Both, however, agree that there is less goondaism under the BJP than under the SP. “Goonda khatam, anna agaya aur mehangai badh gayi (goondaism is over but stray cattle have come and inflation has increased)” they said. Both men said they would prefer BSP chief Mayawati as their CM as her rule offers them peace and security.

Like the two Jatavs, Chandrapal Yadav of Sambhal in west U.P. is also affiliated to the BKU. He regretfully admits to voting the BJP in 2017 and says now he wants Akhilesh Yadav in power; not for biradari (caste affiliation) but his kaam (work).

“How will we do farming,” he asks, listing high diesel price, stray cattle and poor renumeration for crops. Earlier, inflation was low, he says. But what about the alleged goondaism? “It is worse now as BJP people themselves are involved in goondaism,” he said.

In another corner of the park, Roop Kishor, a Maurya (OBC), also from Sambhal, is listening to his leaders speak from the stage. He says he was protesting for his rights and his agitation would go on irrespective of who is in power till the demands are met. “I care about my demands and rights. Have nothing to do with the election,” he says.

Mr. Kishor says the government’s hike in sugarcane price is not enough and complains that sugar mills still owe him payment for 100 days. So, will he express his discontent through a vote against the incumbent? “How is it linked to my vote? I will vote for the one who will be of use to us,” he said, unwilling to share his current political preferences. He says he has voted for the BSP and the BJP in previous elections.

Left-based Dalit farm activists like Mahendra from Ghazipur and Sanjay from Prayagraj shared sharp criticism for the BJP and felt only Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav could mount a challenge. Some Yadav farmers from Budaun, an SP stronghold, nodded in agreement. But Ajay Bir Singh Yadav, part of the group, offered a caveat.

“We will work on the directions of the kisan union. Whoever will defeat the BJP, we will go with that party,” he said.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 3:35:30 PM |

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