In an event organised by the Times Group, industrialist Rahul Bajaj told Home Minister Amit Shah that people are afraid to criticise the government. The Bajaj family is ranked 11th on the Forbes list of richest Indians at net worth of USD 9.2 billion. Home Minister Amit Shah dismissed his apprehensions and said how his fears are unfounded. Opposition leaders used Bajaj’s statements to target the BJP. A section of media also clung on to the ‘atmosphere of fear’ narrative and piggybacked on Bajaj’s statement.
But, amidst all this, Bajaj found himself surrounded by some questions. While he has earlier praised Rahul Gandhi, the allegations this time around are quite serious. BJP MP from Lakhmipur Kheri Ajay Mishra has made some important revelations. Lakhmipur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh which is very close to the Nepal border is known for sugarcane production. There are 10 big sugar mills. Of these, 3 mills belong to the Bajaj family.
Rahul Bajaj has been Rajya Sabha MP as well. As soon as Mishra started speaking on Bajaj, the opposition leaders started creating a ruckus. Mishra said if the opposition parties can put allegations on the BJP by taking name of Bajaj, he could also take up his name. He made a shocking disclosure that the sugar mills owned by Bajaj family owe as much as Rs 10,000 crore to the sugarcane farmers since last two years.
Opposition leaders created more ruckus in support of Bajaj but Meenakshi Lekhi, who was in the chair, asked them to stay quiet. She said that whatever Mishra is saying should be allowed to be put up. “Why are you defending an industrialist? Let it be on record which can be verified,” she said. Mishra then said he is an MP of that region and knows about the ordeals faced by farmers from that region. He added that the current government is trying to get the farmers their dues and hence Bajaj is giving statements opposing the government.
He further added that Uttar Pradesh chief minister is strict when it comes to the sugar mills and the farmers. Actions are being taken against mill owners who are not paying their dues to the farmers. In such a case, the person who owns three sugar mills will have fears. “All those who are involved in wrong things are afraid. They should be afraid too. The administration is keeping an eye on the sugar mils of Rahul Bajaj and pays a visit every three months,” he said.
Some opposition leaders argued that the management of the sugar mills have changed. Mishra argued that change in name or management will not correct the wrong things because even now the mills are being run by Rahul Bajaj’s son. (Perhaps the MP mistook Kushagra Bajaj for Rahul Bajaj’s son, but he is in fact his nephew.)
Bajaj Hindusthan Sugar Limited (BHSL) is one of the largest sugar mills in India. Earlier it was Hindusthan Sugar Mills Limited. It was founded by Jamnalal Bajaj in 1931. In 1988, the name was changed to Bajaj Hindusthan Sugar Limited. Kushagra Bajaj is the Chairman and Managing Director. He is son of Shishir Bajaj, Rahul Bajaj’s brother. In all of UP, the Bajajs own 14 sugar mills.
This is not the first time allegations of not paying farmers their due have been put up against the Bajajs. In 2018, Amar Ujala had published a report which stated that because of non-payment of dues by Bajajs, the farmers are going through a lot of hardships. Till February 2018, in the sugar mills in Golagorakhnath, Palia Kalan and Khambhar khera owed Rs 473 crore to farmers. As per a report by Dainik Jagran, all three mills have had lapses in making payment to the farmers. According to this report, the sugar mills owe the farmers Rs 800 crore. While Rahul and Shishir Bajaj are brothers, the businesses are separate. Bajaj Hindusthan Sugar Ltd is managed by Shishir’s son, Kushagra, as mentioned above.
This report was originally published in Hindi. You could read it here.