Baghpat: Anil Nain, a 52-year-old sugarcane farmer in Sarurpur village in western Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district, had voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2017 assembly elections as well as the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But the self-described “kattar” (hardcore) BJP supporter is likely to shift his vote in the upcoming state elections.
This probable change of course for Nain, much like many others around him, has to do with the Narendra Modi government’s three farm laws introduced last year, and the subsequent protests by groups across Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.
In a momentous decision last week, PM Modi announced that the laws will be repealed as the government couldn’t convince a section of farmers about their value, but that didn’t leave Nain too impressed.
“I welcome the Modi government’s decision to repeal the laws. But he did it because of pressure that we farmers put on him. It is not merely a change of heart. If he thought that way, he would have never introduced it,” said Nain, who owns 22 bighas (around 9 acres) of farmland.
In Sarurpur, a predominantly Jat village with about 20,000 residents, Nain’s sentiments echo widely. Many say that the farm laws and the subsequent protests have changed their attitude towards the BJP.
As ThePrint travelled across villages in Baghpat, many said they are disillusioned by the BJP. However, some fissures were apparent too, as some BJP voters insisted they will stick with the party for the other work that the Yogi Adityanath government is doing.
Western UP, where the Chaudhary Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) once reigned supreme among Jat voters, saw the community shift allegiance to the BJP from the 2014 Lok Sabha elections onwards. In the last assembly elections, the BJP swept the region.
However, the farm laws issue may now turn the tide in favour of the RLD and its young leader and the late Ajit Singh’s son, Jayant Chaudhary.
‘Modi is anti-farmer’
Like Nain, most farmers in Sarurpur cultivate sugarcane, which has been at the centre of the region’s agrarian crisis since 2017. So, while the farmers’ protests were an issue of identity for those in the village — many attended and supported the agitation — the laws or their repeal don’t do much to solve their immediate problems.
ThePrint had earlier reported how unchanged prices, rising input costs and erratic prices had left sugarcane farmers in the state in a lurch. Since then, the Yogi Adityanath government has increased the State Advisory Price on sugarcane by 3 per cent, the first change in prices after 2017.
However, on the ground, this doesn’t seem to have offset rising input costs or expedite payments. Farmers like Nain squarely blame the Yogi government for this crisis and the farm laws seem to have added to this perception of the BJP being “anti-farmer”.
Satbir Nain (56), another sugarcane farmer in Sarurpur, with four bighas of land, said he hasn’t received regular payments for his produce for over two years. “I own a small piece of land. When payments don’t come, it becomes difficult to sustain even monthly expenses for the household and the farm,” he said.
“It is great that Modi took back the laws. But the fact that he’s anti-farmer is proved by the fact that he introduced the laws in the first place. Our sons shouldn’t have had to die for him to come to his senses,” said Satbir, who also voted for BJP in the last couple of elections.
‘Loss for small farmers’
The repeal of farm laws has seemingly left everyone dissatisfied, even the supporters of reform, giving rise to divisions within the villages. There is disappointment in the younger generation of Jat farmers in Baghpat, especially those who own smaller farmlands.
“Chhote kisano ka nuksaan ho gaya (small farmers have lost out),” said Azad Nain, 32, who owns 10 bighas of farmland in Kherki village.
“Our lives and businesses are run by dalals (middlemen),” said Azad. “The three farm laws would have allowed us to bypass them. We could have sold our produce wherever we wanted to, and also not sold them, if that’s what we wanted. I’m really disappointed that they were repealed.”
Unlike Anil Nain, Azad’s vote will remain with the BJP. “Look at the roads here. Earlier you wouldn’t have been able to come here from Delhi so smoothly. This is what the BJP government has done,” said Azad.
“Farmers are in distress all over the country. Even in states run by opposition parties. We are in distress because we are small fry. I don’t think any government will change that. So, it makes sense to vote for those who are at least giving us other facilities,” he added.
‘Modi not allowing Yogi to work’
An interesting phenomenon to note in this region is the reverence for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, even among those who say they won’t vote for the BJP. According to these people, there is a conflict in the state because the BJP is “trying to run UP from Delhi”.
“When Yogi ji came, he built the roads, he gave us water and electricity. But in the last two years or so, since the Lok Sabha elections, we see that work has stopped. I don’t think Modi is allowing him to work,” said Azad.
“If Yogi ji was in-charge, he would have never repealed the farm laws due to pressure. He would have stood his ground,” Sunil Singh, another farm law-supporting young farmer, said as he interjected Azad.
Satbir in Sarurpur also said. “The rate of crime has definitely come down since the Yogi sarkar took over. Earlier, random theft and even violence was commonplace in these parts. Now even if you, a lone woman, travels through these areas at night, you will face no problems,” Satbir told this reporter.
“If Yogi was allowed to work in his own capacity, we would have been much better off. But the BJP is trying to run UP from Delhi,” he added.
Jayant acceptable, Tikait not so much
Many Jat farmers ThePrint spoke to saw the repeal following protests as an assertion of their identity. Most of them were “purana” (old) RLD supporters, who switched over to the BJP, but now seem to be returning to the Chaudharys.
“I went to the Ghazipur border for the protests. The atmosphere was unreal. To see our Jat brothers taking Delhi by storm was a wonderful experience,” said 41-year-old farmer Sripal Singh in Shahpur Banoli village.
“We had grown up hearing stories about Chaudhary Charan Singh and how much he’d done for the Jat community. Now his grandson Jayant seems to be taking the voice of the community to Delhi,” he added.
Former prime minister Charan Singh was widely regarded as a champion of farmers.
However, the perception about Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait among the farmers was a little more ambivalent.
“Tikait was the face of the movement and of us Jats. But he should not have allowed our movement to be marred by the Khalistani forces. I also saw in the news that the Khalistanis had chopped off a man’s hand. The Jats should not be equated with Khalistanis,” said Anil Singh, a farmer in Shahpur Banoli.
“Jayant Chaudhary is raising the voice of the Jat farmers, but Rakesh Tikait is looking after his own gains according to me. He will switch to whichever side benefits him more,” said 73-year-old Sujit Singh.
Sujit went on to narrate a story from his teens, when he saw Chaudhary Charan Singh at a rally, and was moved by his speech and persona. But in the last two elections, Sujit also voted for the BJP.
“The Jats are proud people, but we are not jaahil (ignorant). We don’t get violent without reason. This perception has been created about us across the country first because of the Muzaffarnagar riots and then because of these protests. That is not right,” Sujit added.
‘Fooled in 2013’
The changing perception of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, in which over 60 people were killed, is palpable in the western UP region.
The RLD, once a massive political force in the region because of its loyal Jat and Muslim vote-base, saw a downward spiral after the riots as the Jats consolidated behind the BJP.
In Baghpat, the party’s stronghold, where the RLD held a vote share of approximately 29 per cent in the 2012 state elections, its vote share fell to almost 11 per cent in 2017.
However, this could change next year if the BJP does not manage to win back the Jats.
“We thought that the Muslims were causing trouble and targeting us. We thought our community was in danger. That’s why we voted for them (BJP), because we thought the RLD couldn’t protect us. Now we realise there was nothing to protect us from,” said Anil in Sarurpur.
Even Azad, who is still firmly with the BJP electorally, said the riots were
“We were fooled into thinking that there were problems with the Muslims, just so that they (BJP) could get our vote,” he said. “But I don’t mind getting fooled. Iss bahane Yogi ji toh mil gaye (we got Yogi ji as a result),” he added.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)
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