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Ex-vet at service of farmers
- How riot-tainted Balyan rose to be minister

Sanjeev Kumar Balyan at Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi. Picture by Imran Ahmed Siddiqui

New Delhi, May 28: From being a vet to the second youngest minister in the Narendra Modi government in three years, Sanjeev Kumar Balyan’s rise has been meteoric.

The 41-year-old minister of state for agriculture and Muzaffarnagar MP, accused of a role in last year’s riots that saw him spend two weeks in jail, is older only to HRD minister Smriti Irani, 38.

“I joined the BJP only two years ago but my hard work has paid off. I thank Modiji from the bottom of my heart for giving me a golden opportunity to serve the farmers of our country,” Balyan said.

For Balyan — erroneously mentioned as Baliyan in the May 27 edition of The Telegraph — the leap came in the first election of his life. “It (the victory) was a pleasant surprise and is yet to sink in,” the Jat leader from the sugarcane belt of western Uttar Pradesh said.

But when he was sworn in on Monday, several Muzaffarnagar residents had voiced shock with some saying he had been “rewarded” before the wounds could heal.

Balyan’s detractors questioned his eligibility, wondering how the BJP leadership had given him such a responsibility without any proven talent or background or a track record of loyalty. Balyan, though, doesn’t mind being called a novice. “Yes, I am a novice in politics but I am a fast learner,” the father of two smiled.

A large number of BJP supporters from Muzaffarnagar had made a beeline at the lounge of the government-run Ashoka Hotel to meet him yesterday morning. Many had come with garlands at the hotel where the new MPs have been provided transit accommodation till they move into their bungalows.

Balyan, a PhD in veterinary anatomy from Chaudhury Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University, worked as an assistant professor for two years and later joined the Haryana government as a veterinary surgeon. He resigned to become a partner in a real estate firm in 2011. His foray into politics began around that time.

Balyan is accused of being part of a mahapanchayat — large gathering of villagers — held in early September last year despite prohibitory orders, giving provocative speeches and promoting enmity between two communities.

“I was framed in the riot case by the Uttar Pradesh government for political reasons and had to spend 14-15 days in jail. People in my constituency knew about it (my innocence) and helped me win the election,” he said, referring to the FIR. The leader secured bail from Lucknow High Court. Fifty people died in the violence and over 50,000 were displaced.

The minister now says he wants to leave the past behind and work for the people, Hindus and Muslims, in his constituency, especially the farmers. “Around 70 per cent of the population in our country is dependent on farming. I want to work for their development.”

The BJP has always backed Balyan, saying he was not involved in the riots and was framed by the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi government.

The BJP won all 10 seats in the western Uttar Pradesh, with many observers saying the gains came in a polarised electorate. Balyan won by a little over 4 lakh votes and cited the huge margin to argue he had the support of all. “Muslims also voted for me. Otherwise, the victory margin would not have been that big,” he said.

During the campaign, the BJP had courted controversy by felicitating two BJP legislators charged with instigating the violence. Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, who had spent over a month in jail, were feted at an Agra rally — before Narendra Modi reached the venue and addressed the crowd.

The BJP claimed the duo, out on bail then, had been wrongly accused and argued that protesting the state’s action was one of the reasons for holding the rally.

Balyan lives with his wife, two little daughters, elderly parents and younger brother Vivek at Qutba, one of the worst affected pockets in the riots. Eight Muslims from the hamlet were killed and over 100 families fled the village.

The displaced families are still living in relief camps for the past eight months and refuse to return.

Balyan said he was trying to get them back. “It was really sad that people had to leave their homes to live in relief camps. We are trying to convince them to return to their villages. I want normality to be restored so that people can start living in peace and harmony. The past is past and we have to move ahead.”

Balyan assumed charge as minister this morning. “It is the beginning of a long innings,” he said.