Emergence of caste politics has dealt a deadly blow to sugarcane. In its place, Bijli Sadak Pani (BSP) sparks the electoral battle even though the Congress made a desperate attempt to rake up dead issues like pending dues of the sugarcane farmers.
For the Congress, it started with the Union Cabinet deciding to give subsidy to sugarcane industry for revival and paying the dues to farmers last month. In Dewaria, where the Congress won only one of the seven assembly segments in last elections, Youth Congress president Ashok Tanwar announced that the party will revive sugarcane farming. “Our backwardness would be tackled only if the farmers grow sugarcane and gets right price,” explained JP Jaiswal, Congress candidate from Dewaria.
The Congress bid may be a little too late. No more, sugarcane is the first priority of lakhs of farmers in the belt from Dewaria to Mirzapur.
“What is the use?” asks Bhim Yadav of Bhagupur village. Farmers in his village have not received payment of their produce sold to factories from the last 10-12 years, forcing seven major sugar factories to close in the area.
Another reason to dump the crop is that the market price is not very lucrative for farmers. “The middlemen and the factory owner is making the money,” rues Takeshwar Singh, another villager. Large-scale cultivation is now done by a few ‘rich’ farmers in Patrona and Chandpur blocks who can sell their crop well, Singh informed.
But, for political parties like Samajwadi Party and BSP, plight of sugarcane farmers is not a major political issue anymore. “Development is the biggest issue not sugarcane,” said Rajan Singh of SP.
Ram Babu Tiwari, a school teacher in Dewaria, blames the UP caste politics for demise of a rich cash crop. “In a feudal system, the upper castes always oppressed the lower castes. Then in mid-1990s the Yadav got SP and dalit got BSP as political patrons and there was a clear division in votes, resulting in caste issue becoming prominent in elections, rather than people issues,” he said.
This shift has not helped the farmers in anyway. Raman Rai, who has hundred of acres in Chandpur, says sugarcane is twice as profitable to any other crop, if the government assures correct market price and instant payment is made. With less land under sugarcane cultivation, the rise in sugarcane prices is quite obvious.
Like sugarcane farmers, a small group of farmers in Salempur rose that flower growers are fast facing extinction. These roses are raw material used for producing gulab jal (rose water) and iter (scent) sold in domestic markets in UP and Bihar. “Now only a few families are left in the business due to impact of globalization,” said Manjay Rai, a local seller of these products.