Millennium Post

Modi plays on hurt pride, poor price to form sugar alliance in West UP

Modi plays on hurt pride, poor price to form sugar alliance in West UP
Modi uses this slogan repeatedly in the rallies he is addressing in western Uttar Pradesh and it does touch a chord with the local voters.

While the area is known for its robust agrarian produces, it’s also known for martial traditions with large number of families sending men to the army. Lance Naik Hemraj Singh, who was beheaded last year on India-Pakistan border belonged to the region and a family of small farmers.

On the one hand is the hurt pride of the soldier families and on the other the unpaid dues of the sugarcane crop sold by the farmers to the mills dotting the countryside. The Samajwadi Party state government has been least firm in dealing with the corporate sugar mills in the region, which delayed the start of cane crushing this winter causing damage to the crop lying in open.

The delay in crushing operations affected nearly 32 lakh sugarcane farmer families. It also led to delayed employment to two lakh sugar mill workers. According to rough estimates these mills owe farmers dues to the tune of Rs 10000 crore. The payments have not taken place despite a Supreme Court directive. This gives the BJP leader a firm handle to drive his point home – Mar Jawan, Mar Kisan. From this region 10 Lok Sabha seats go to polls on 10 April.

Samajwadi Party, given its poor presence in the sugar belt, has seldom been sympathetic to the Kisans of the region and whenever it has come to power it has made common cause with the millers, which is controlled by Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA).

In western UP, the Kisans are not farm hands but substantial landholders and they largely belong to two communities – Jat and Muslims. Therefore, former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh’s ‘Kisan struggle’ was largely monopolisation of the sugar trade as he managed to bring in Vaishya community, which controlled sugar and jaggery wholesale trade, as the urban adjunct of the social composition.

The Bharatiya Lok Dal leader wove a political alliance which went beyond the Kisan (farmer), as mentioned earlier, and encapsulated each community related to sugarcane trade. No wonder BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in his more than two public meetings in these parts has tried to build a sugar alliance different from what was woven by Charan Singh.

The communal flare-up following the Muzzafarnagar riots and unpaid sugar dues has put the traditional sugar alliance to strain. While the Congress is trying to retain the old alliance by various means -- tying with Charan Singh’s son aviation minister Ajit Singh, including Jats in the category of the other backward classes for availing job quotas and sharing dais with wife of Imran Masood, party’s  jailed candidate from Saharanpur, who threatened to make a mincemeat of Modi.

With Vaishya community on its side and Jat and Muslims having turned adversaries in several pockets following communal flare-up, BJP definitely has an outside chance to make inroads in the sugar belt and equal its performance of 1998 elections, fought at the height of the Ramjanambhoomi struggle.
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