BJP will face challenges in sugar belt

Source: India Abroad News Service

By Saurabh Katkurwar

New Delhi, April 3 (IANS)┬áDirect income support of Rs 6,000 to farmers is seen as the BJP government’s answer to the rising rural distress but the anger is still simmering among the sugarcane growers over the delay in clearing their dues. This can threaten the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) electoral prospects in around 70-75 constituencies.

The majority of these constitutions are in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, where sugarcane is a major crop. No other crop is as closely associated with the politics of these states.

As many as 59 districts in these states cultivate sugarcane, as do several districts in northern Karnataka – a BJP stronghold.

The issue of arrears can change the political equations in many of the districts.

In the 2018 by-polls, the BJP had suffered defeat at the hands of the Rashtriya Lok Sal (RLD) in Uttar Pradesh’s Kairana, as they said “Jinnah hara, ganna jeeta” – a reference to the cane arrear issue that prevailed over BJP’s communal politics.

Sensing the trouble ahead, the BJP government immediately brought a Rs 8,000 crore assistance package to support the sugar sector by offsetting the cost of cane and facilitating sugar exports to partly compensate for the accumulation of arrears of more than Rs 20,000 crore for year 2017-18.

In February last, the government increased Minimum Selling Price (MSP) of sugar by Rs 2 to Rs 31 per kg to help millers clear the pending dues of farmers.

However, farmers are not impressed with the government’s decision as they said millers made the most of it and the benefits were not transferred to cane growers.

“The package may have benefited the millers. However, farmers are still struggling to get their dues,” said Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Yudhvir Singh.

Farmers in 45 of the 75 districts Uttar Pradesh and 24 of 36 districts of Maharashtra grow sugarcane, where cane arrears have gone over Rs 10,000 crore and Rs 5,000 in 2018-19 alone, over and above the previous dues.

A significant hike in the domestic sugar production due to increase in the cane area and higher recovery rate of sugar from sugarcane in the last few years against falling rates in the international markets has led to a drop in revenues, claim millers, who are delaying payments to farmers.

Farmer’s unions have been demanding that the government assistance should be made directly to them rather than to the industry in the form of packages.

If the cane arrears issue gains momentum in the election campaigning, the BJP may find it difficult to handle the situation.

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