Jats in west U.P. drifting away from BJP

Demonetisation, pending cane dues and reservation blues have brought the sugar belt closer to Rashtriya Lok Dal

February 12, 2017 12:57 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:58 pm IST - MUZAFFARNAGAR

THE DIE IS CAST:  Residents relaxing after exercising their franchise at Kiwana village in Shamli district, during the first phase of Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday.

THE DIE IS CAST: Residents relaxing after exercising their franchise at Kiwana village in Shamli district, during the first phase of Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Lisaad presented an imagery of saffron — communal feelings were running high and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) flags dotted the village on polling day. The BJP went on to sweep the region, as it did the State.

This time around, the dominant colour in this Jat-dominated village in Shamli was the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) flag — the hand pump on green and white. As the riot-affected village voted on Saturday — around 13 people were allegedly murdered here in September 2013 — the change in political sentiments was remarkable. The Jats here are seen rejecting the BJP even though it fielded a candidate from their community — Tejinder Nirwal.

“The BJP is treating the Jats as if we are ‘cabs meant for hire’ (‘ kiraye ki taxi’). Without the Jats, the BJP is nothing in this belt,” said Devinder Malik, a Jat farmer, resting on a cot near a sugarcane field.

Multiple reasons

The Jats’ anger against the BJP stems from many reasons — some economic, other emotional. If they blame the Modi government for failing to pay the dues of sugarcane farmers, in the same breath they also rake up the neglect and disrespect meted out by the BJP to former PM Chaudhary Charan Singh and his family, and the Jat reservation issue in Haryana.

“Chaudhary ji (Ajit Singh, RLD leader and son of Charan Singh) was thrown out of his kothi (official bungalow in Delhi). And now, when polling is near and the BJP sensed the Jat vote is slipping, Modi remembers Charan Singh ji in his Bijnore rally. Did he even mention him once before that... on his birthday, December 23?” asks Shailendra Malik, one among the many Jat men gathered outside their homes after exercising their franchise.

The village is in the heart of the sugar belt and there is anger among Jats for the BJP’s failure to pay their dues. Demonetisation is also criticised here, but in patches.

“Mill owners got the interest rate waived while farmers are still waiting to get their dues. They got no relief. Some got nothing more than ₹ 20 or ₹ 30 from the cooperatives,” said Dalbir Singh, former MLA from the seat and uncle of Brijendra Malik, who is in the running as the RLD candidate. “Nobody has done good to us like the RLD — it created awareness among Jats, got awareness,” chips in Arvind Chauhan.

The Muslims of the village fled after the riots and now live in Kandhla, a kasba . If most of them sold their original homes, many Muslim homes remain untended, their doors locked. The communal divide has dissipated since 2013 but it looks unlikely that the alliance that Chaudhary Charan Singh nurtured would be restored any time soon as Muslims are not expected to return here. The Jats also deny that any lives were lost in the violence, claiming that the Muslims hyped up figures to get compensation from the government. They blame the BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP) government for the riots. “Many Jat youth were falsely arrested,” is the common refrain.

The Jats, however, remember the riots as unfortunate — as it has not only defamed the community but also broken the economic ties with Muslims, who provided them with a cheap labour force.

“Even today, around 150 Muslims come here daily to sell wood, or as labour. Before the riots happened, there was a deep bond between us. The polarisation destroyed that,” said Arvind Chauhan, who works in a sugarcane factory.

An audio recording of BJP president Amit Shah requesting Jats for their support has allegedly gone viral. When Jats in neighbouring Kiwana village are asked about it, they dismiss it as another gimmick. “ Kuch farak nahi padega (‘nothing with change’). The BJP is a party of liars,” retorted a Jat elder.

But what about the Modi government’s fight against black money? “Who is ending corruption? I am still not able to withdraw the ₹ 20,000 I deposited in my account. The banks say no cash. I spend my whole day standing in line. I am selling milk to feed my family. I have not paid my son’s school fees,” says another Jat man

Travelling across the Jat belt in western U.P., the shift in mood is apparent. On this seat, the Jat votes are expected to be split among the RLD, the Congress and the BJP — all three have fielded Jats. The Congress’ Pankaj Malik is the incumbent.

In neighbouring Muzaffarnagar’s Phugana district, another riot-affected village — six cases of rape and two murders were reported here — the Jats once again raise the issue of sugarcane dues and the disrespect shown to the RLD’s first family to criticise the BJP. However, they would still prefer to vote for the BJP. The picture is clear from the fact that the village, located close to a Muslim pocket, has predominantly BJP flags hoisted outside homes. No RLD flags are seen.

Though the villagers regret the 2013 riots, the communal wedge remains. Not a single Muslim family lives here today. The Jats will vote the BJP’s Umesh Malik as he supported Jat boys when they were arrested after the riots. They also feel the RLD is not in a position to keep out the Muslims.”

“He made sure the boys were provided fresh food and the their family members didn’t have to stand in long queues to meet them,” said Parvin Malik, adding that 150 Hindu youth were arrested then.

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