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Potato prices crash, living costs rise, farmers distressed. But most Mathura voters forgive BJP

Mathura is part of UP’s struggling potato-farming belt, but its identity is deeply rooted in its status as Krishna janmabhoomi, and Modi is still seen as saviour by several voters.

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Mathura: A bumper potato crop followed by crashing prices has cast a pall of gloom in Mathura, which comes under Uttar Pradesh’s vast potato belt. However, despite farmer distress and rampant unemployment on the ground, many local residents say they still repose trust in the BJP and will cast a vote for “Hindu pride” and “national interest”.

Surya Nagar mandi (market) is a veritable sea of potatoes. There are trucks loaded with them and bags bulging with them.

Unfortunately, this bounty is not worth very much since wholesale potato prices have stayed at a dismal Rs 5 to 6 for many months, where they were at least Rs 8 or 9 a year ago. For UP’s potato belt, which stretches from Agra and Mathura to Kanpur and Etawah (and accounts for more than 30 per cent of the country’s total potato output), this is a worrying scenario, especially when accompanied by steep diesel prices, the shortage of DAP (diammonium phosphate fertiliser), and inflation.

Umar Pal, a small farmer who had come to sell potatoes at the Surya Nagar mandi, said that it was difficult to cover the cost of production at the current rates. “We farmers are under distress,” he added.

Another farmer, Mohammed Anwar, who like Umar Pal cultivates potatoes on 15-20 bighas of land, elaborated: “The cost of production is at least Rs 10 per kg, but the rate we are getting is just Rs 200-250 per katta (bag).” A katta contains about 50kg which means that farmers are getting Rs 5 or less per kg currently in Mathura.

“There is no other work here… there are no factories or government schemes for employment. The government has no mechanism to prevent the potato prices from falling. We also have to bear the cost of keeping the crops in cold storage, pay for fuel for transportation, buy fertilisers,” Anwar added. “I will vote for the Samajwadi Party.”

However, while Mathura may be a land of potatoes, the region’s identity is more deeply rooted in its status as the Krishna janmabhoomi (birthplace of Krishna). Many Hindu voters in the region still repose their trust in the BJP as guardians of this religious heritage.

The BJP’s campaign in the region, which is home to five assembly constituencies (of which the party holds four), has also focused on promises to build a grand temple in Mathura to match those being constructed in Ayodhya and Kashi.


Also Read: Who’ll be ‘man of the match’ in UP? West-to-east polls has clear answer


‘We have no choice but to vote for BJP’

Over the last couple of years, business has been slow for the commercial establishments along Krishna gali (lane), located near the Krishna Janmasthan Temple Complex.

D.S. Solanki, who runs a guesthouse here, said that the Covid lockdowns had “destroyed” his business and that very few advances had been made in infrastructure over the years. However, he said that this has not dampened his enthusiasm for the BJP.

“Vote toh hamein BJP ko hi dena hoga (We have no choice but to vote for BJP). We have to vote for deshbhakti (patriotism). This is the only party for Hindus,” Solanki said.

Rampal Singh, who has a shop in the same area and is also a BJP worker, said that local governance was not up to par but Modi was still Mathura’s best hope.

“There is no local development as the MLA is always in Lucknow, but we will still vote for the BJP. They will renovate the temple and this will eventually help our businesses. Modi is doing good work for the country and has launched many schemes for the poor… it is just the local representatives who are not working,” Rampal Singh said.

D.S. Solanki (sitting, L) and Rampal Singh (centre) believe Modi is their best bet | Photo: Unnati Sharma/ThePrint

Ahead of elections, BJP leaders have focused increased attention on the Mathura temple issue.

Last month, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also brought it up during a speech in Amroha. “The Ram Temple is coming up in Ayodhya, Lord Shiva’s Temple is coming up in Kashi. So, how can Mathura and Vrindavan be left behind?” the CM said.

Just weeks earlier, Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Maurya, who is believed to be in a power tussle with Adityanath, had said that a “grand temple” would be built in Mathura. His statement came shortly after Section 144 was imposed in Mathura in anticipation of communal trouble after the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha declared that it would install a Krishna idol in a mosque near the temple.

BJP sources told ThePrint that the party’s high-command had to tell Maurya to bring down his Hindutva pitch.

However, even though Mathura is an important nerve centre for Hindutva politics, the political landscape is more complex than it may seem.

A fight for five seats

The BJP currently holds four out of five assembly seats in Mathura Lok Sabha constituency.

Mathura assembly constituency was a Congress stronghold until 2017, when the BJP’s Shrikant Sharma wrested the seat from four-time MLA Pradeep Mathur.

Home Minister Amit Shah as well as Yogi Adityanath have campaigned for him, but there are anti-incumbency sentiments against Sharma (who is also UP Energy Minister) because of his alleged lack of involvement in Mathura.

Rajesh Mathur, a potato farmer, said he would vote for Pradeep Mathur of the Congress since Sharma was a “paradrop candidate”.

“He is like Hema Malini (who is Lok Sabha MP from Mathura) who never comes in to help. The Yamuna River has not been cleaned and the four-lane road from Vrindavan to Mathura has not been constructed either,” Rajesh Mathur said.

Sharma refuted the charges levelled at him. In his tenure, he said, “there has been uninterrupted power supply in Mathura, Braj development has reached new heights”. 

“From construction of roads to Yamuna cleaning, we have added new heights in development,” he added.

The Chhata assembly constituency is a Jat-Thakur majority seat where the sitting MLA and minister Chaudhary Laxmi Narayan Singh is in the race again. Govardhan and Baldev are also dominated by the Jat community, which, in the wake of the farm laws’ controversy, is currently not believed to be favourably inclined towards the party.

The most interesting seat of all in the area, however, is Manth, which is the only seat that the BJP did not win in the area in the last assembly polls.

The MLA here is Shyam Sunder Sharma, who has held on to the seat since 1989. The eight-time MLA is currently in the BSP, but he has also fought independently and under the Congress and Trinamool banners; even the Ram movement and Modi wave could not shake his popularity.

The five seats vote in the first phase of the UP assembly elections on 10 February.

The entrance to the Krishna Janmasthan Temple Complex in Mathura | Photo: Unnati Sharma/ThePrint

BJP campaigns in the belt are focusing on issues like the restoration of “Mathura pride”, law and order, various “feats” by Modi (like the Ram Temple and abrogation of Section 370 in J&K), and government schemes for health and farmer welfare (like PM Kisan Nidhi) to defuse anti-incumbency and Jat unhappiness with the party.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance, meanwhile, is focusing its efforts on mobilising support from the Jats and Muslims. “They comprise about 20 per cent and 19 per cent of the population in this area, respectively,” an RLD source said.

Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also has Dalit support in the region, despite the low-key campaign. In Dehurua, a village dominated by the Jatav community, most voters said they support the BSP. However, here too the BJP has made some inroads. “My pension has increased thanks to Modi,” a farmer belonging to the Mallah community said, although some of his companions disagreed.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)


Also Read: Hindu voters in UP don’t need extremism and call for violence for them to vote BJP


 

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