Kairana (Uttar Pradesh):Stacks of cane laden on tractor trolleys waiting to be crushed in sugar mills is a recurrent sight in Kairana constituency in western Uttar Pradesh amid complaints farmers have not been paid since January —a problem that has taken a political colour.

Following a record production of sugar in the 2017-18 season, wholesale sugar prices plunged below production costs of mills who are unable to pay farmers. With the Kairana Lok Sabha bypolls set for 28 May, the dominant Jat community is annoyed with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for not keeping its electoral promise to pay their dues.

“If farmers were paid their dues for sugarcane, there was no reason for BJP to campaign during the byelections. We would have won without campaigning. The party is doing door-to-door campaign because farmers have not been paid their dues. The opposition has no issue against the BJP government apart from non-payment of sugarcane dues," Sajeev Balyan former Union minister and member of Parliament (MP) from Muzaffarnagar constituency told Mint while campaigning at Bhainswal village.

The Jat voter base was important for the rise of the BJP in western Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and helped the party do well in the 2017 assembly polls, but now Jat farmers are annoyed by unpaid dues.

Depending on the land holding of a farmer, dues range from Rs30,000 to as high as Rs12 lakh. Six mills in Kairana constituency owe farmers Rs777 crore, according to the Uttar Pradesh Sugar Mill Association ; for the entire state dues were a staggering Rs12,224 crore till 18 May.

“The BJP promised before elections to clear all dues within 14 days of supplying cane to mills. The state sugar minister Suresh Rana is from here but look at us, we cannot pay school fees of our children let alone get our daughters married," said 63-year-old Chandrapal Singh, a sugarcane farmer from Khedi Kamru village.

For most farmers in Kairana sugarcane is the only means to earn cash— the little wheat they grow is used up at home and mango orchards are no longer lucrative. Farmers in western Uttar Pradesh and in other states prefer to grow cane as mills are legally bound to pay them a fair and remunerative price.

During the village level campaigning, BJP leaders try to explain to farmers that there is no immediate solution to the problem. “The government has to stand by the farmers, we have to protect the needs of farmers. Everywhere we are being asked the same question and we try to explain the magnitude of the crisis," Balyan added.

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