New Delhi: Just ahead of the announcement of state polls in Uttar Pradesh, chief minister Mayawati on Tuesday announced concessions targeting 4 million sugarcane farmers in the state.

“In the interest of the farmers, the government has decided to hike the state advisory price (SAP) of the cane by 40 per quintal," Mayawati told reporters in Lucknow.

The state, a crucial electoral battleground, is expected to witness a three-way fight between the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Congress party in the state assembly polls.

Step ahead: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati addressing a press conference in Lucknow on Tuesday.

In the last crushing season, the state government had fixed the SAP of cane at between 205 per quintal and 210 per quintal. The chief minister claimed that compared to previous regimes, the BSP government had raised the SAP by 65% in the last four years.

“Though it was a genuine demand from the sugarcane farmers, the timing is politically significant. With assembly elections nearing, one can expect more such decisions before the Election Commission announces the election," said A.K. Verma, a Kanpur-based political analyst and head of the department of political science in Christ Church College.

Once the elections are announced, a model code of conduct comes into effect, barring any populist announcements.

Verma said the decision will have a significant effect in the Terai region and western Uttar Pradesh, considered to be “sugar belts" in the state. Uttar Pradesh is the second largest sugar producer in the country and sugar is one of the most important cash crops for the state—its biggest organized industrial sector, comprising more than 100 sugar mills, is based on it.

“Mayawati has been trying to outsmart the RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal, which has a significant support base in western parts of the state) in western Uttar Pradesh. She is hoping to consolidate her electoral support there," Verma said.

The BSP won 207 of the 403 assembly seats in the 2007 state polls.

Maywati’s move is seen as a riposte to the pro-Dalit populist measures initiated by the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre.

The Union cabinet on 1 November approved a policy under which central ministries and state-run firms will have to source a certain proportion of goods and services they buy every year from small and medium entreprises. Some portion of that will have to be from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The National Advisory Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi earlier this month recommended a plan under which a portion of Plan outlays will have to set aside for the welfare of scheduled castes.

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s frequent visits to Dalit-populated villages in Uttar Pradesh have also been seen as an attempt to split Mayawati’s strong support base in the community. Gandhi earlier this month visited more than a dozen villages dominated by Dalits and other backward communities in Varanasi, Chandauli, Mirzapur, Jaunpur, Gazipur and Badoi districts of Uttar Pradesh.

PTI contributed to this story.