Farmers' protest: BJP deploys Sanjeev Balyan to woo Jats
The BJP is set to deploy junior minister and Muzaffarnagar riot accused Sanjeev Balyan to talk to the protesting farmers at a time the sizeable Jat and Muslim communities of western Uttar Pradesh are threatening to form a formidable anti-BJP axis.
Balyan, an influential Jat leader from the region, met BJP politicians from western Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday to brief them on how to defend the contentious laws before the angry farmers from the politically powerful Jat community.
So far, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar and railway minister Piyush Goyal have been handling the farmer protests, but sources said Balyan could now be fore-grounded too.
The junior minister for animal husbandry and fisheries belongs to the same Balyan khap or gotra (lineage) as farmer leader Rakesh Tikait, who is leading the protests at the Ghazipur border.
Rakesh and elder brother Naresh Tikait are said to have switched support to Balyan at the last moment before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, helping him defeat Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh by a thin margin.
Muzaffarnagar has emerged as the epicentre of the farm protests in western Uttar Pradesh, with efforts being made to revive the decades-long Jat-Muslim “brotherhood” that had been shredded by the September 2013 violence. Balyan could prove a divisive figure in this context.
Balyan is accused of being a key instigator of the 2013 riots, which not only helped turn the BJP into the dominant political player in the region but created the climate for its victory in the April-May 2014 general election.
The BJP has been particularly concerned after the farmer protests intensified in western Uttar Pradesh since the state votes early next year.
First, the farmers and now political parties like the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Congress are organising farmer mahapanchayats, which are drawing huge crowds.
On Tuesday, home minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda asked party leaders from Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan to aggressively counter the Opposition’s “misleading campaign” on the farm laws.
“We discussed the farm laws and the misconceptions being spread and decided to step up our awareness campaign,” Balyan said.
“There are no APMCs (Agricultural Produce Market Committees) in western Uttar Pradesh. There’s only a gur (jaggery) market,” he added, saying farmers from the region were therefore forced to sell much of their produce in neighbouring states like Punjab.
“The new laws help small farmers since they will no longer have to pay 2.5 per cent tax to sell their produce outside the state.”
Party insiders said this was Balyan’s chance to prove his leadership qualities by placating the Jats from his region. Balyan has been eyeing a cabinet berth for a long time.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Shah is learnt to have told party leaders to not be defensive but go out and convince the farmers that the protests were being masterminded by forces conspiring against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the country.
Party insiders said that one of the reasons for the anger among the sugarcane farmers of western Uttar Pradesh was sugar mills’ failure to pay their dues. “The government is taking steps and soon the dues will be cleared,” a BJP leader said.