Uttar pradesh

West U.P. is warming up for a tight contest this winter

SP president Akhilesh Yadav and RLD chief Jayant at a rally in Meerut in December.

As the process of filing nominations for the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh election comes to a close, the battle for western Uttar Pradesh has begun.

Riding on the perceived Jat-Muslim unity after the farmers’ agitation and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s indifference, the Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance is hoping to seize control of the region where the Bharatiya Janata Party won a whopping 53 out of the 58 seats in 2017.On average, Jats and Muslims constitute between 30% to 50% of the electorate in these seats.The SP hasleft 33 seats for the RLD in the first round, out of which on five seats, SP candidates are contesting on the hand pump symbol. While the alliance has picked 10 Jat candidates, the BJP has opted for 12. Eleven Muslim candidates are also in the fray under the SP-RLD alliance.


However, after the ticket distribution, the fissures among Jats and Muslims that helped the BJP win after the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 came out in the open.

The ruckus created by Jats, after a Muslim candidate from the SP was asked to contest from Siwalkhas (in the Baghpat Lok Sabha constituency) on the RLD symbol, has come as a roadblock for march of the alliance. It has emerged that while Muslims are supporting the Jat candidates, the Jats are not too keen to return the favour, particularly in seats where the BJP has also fielded a Jat candidate.

RLD chief Chaudhary Jayant Singh tried to take off the religious connotation from the Jat-Muslim brotherhood and presented it as social cohesion. Responding to a tweet, he said Chaudhary Charan Singh [his grandfather and former Prime Minister] didn’t do the politics of Hindus and Muslims, but stood for the cause of farmers and workers. Mr Singh’s wife had to make an impassioned appeal to party workers not to make it a Hindu-Muslim election.

No doubt, it is a laudable ideological pitch, but observers felt it was bereft of political reality in the Meerut zone, where Jats are seeking greater representation from a party that it has always looked upto and is on a rebound after the farmers’ agitation.

Party insiders said while Chaudhary Charan Singh did talk of farmer-worker unity, he did invoke MAJGAR (Muslim, Ahir (Yadav), Jat, Gurjar, Rajput) formula for political consolidation as well. “Today, the RLD is effectively left with only the MAJ part and it needs to be protected and re-imagined,” said a senior Jat leader, requesting anonymity.

The ripples in the alliance gave the BJP, whose candidates are facing anti-incumbency and farmers’ anger, an opportunity to polarise the election, with Union Minister Sanjeev Baliyan, the Jat face of BJP, describing the lack of Jat representation as a betrayal of the community’s trust and pride. The party tried to shift focus from its Khatauli MLA beingchased by farmersby tweeting an edited video from the party’s official handlewhere Mr. Jayant Singh could be heard saying that he hadn’t taken up a contract for Jats and late RLD supremo Ajit Singh describing the SP as a “goonda party”.The voiceover says that Mr. Singh has put a question mark over the ability of Jats by giving Ahmed Hameed a ticket from Baghpat.

Local BJP sources said the party was trying to bring into its fold a section of Jats that felt Mr. Singh didn’t assert his caste identity enough. There are some who are wary of the SP putting up its candidates on the RLD symbol, perhaps to secure its post-poll future. “A Muslim from RLD would have been a safer bet in Siwalkhas,” said a local RLD leader.

Party spokespersonSunil Rohata, one of the two RLD contenders for the Siwalkhas seat, admitted the “drama was unwarranted” and that the divide had been bridged. “We should appreciate that Jayant ji has tried to give representation to all the communities, including Gurjars (3), Dalits (8), Thakurs (2) and Brahmins (3).”

It is not that the alliance didn’t see it coming. In a bid to prevent polarisation, it hasn’t given a single ticket to a Muslim in Muzaffarnagar, despite a significant Muslim presence in each of the six Assembly constituencies in the district.

It tried to compensate it in Meerut (3), Baghpat, Shamli (2), Baghpat (2), and Bulandshahr (2) but party sources said Jats wanted their candidates even in seats where Muslims are more than a lakh and the Jat presence is only around 40,000-50,000.Siwalkhas,Thana Bhawanand Baghpatare three such examples.

Old-timers said Jats in the rural areas were still living in the pre-EVM era when their candidates used to “stamp” their way to victory even in seats where their numerical strength was poor. They haven’t come to terms to the BJP era when poll managers take into account even the strength of sub-castes at every booth.

Sanjeev Chaudhary, a farmer leader of Desh Khap in Baraut, said “ Jat lena jaanta hai, denanahin (Jats like to command support not offer it). Jats will not vote for the Muslim candidate, particularly, in seats where the Samajwadi Party has put up its candidate.”

However, Sokhendra Chaudhary of Battisa khap that held sway over 32 villages in Shamli felt differently. “The Muslim candidates put up by the RLD in Baghpat and Shamli are only culturally Muslim. They are one amongst us. Nahid Hasan (SP’s Kairana candidate) is being presented as a monster by television channels but this is not the case on the ground,” he said. “He has a following not only among Muslim Gurjars but Hindu Gurjars as well.”

Perhaps, the lack of clarity among the khaps also explains the ambivalence of the Tikait brothers, ahead of elections.

The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leadership felt the 70% of Jats that was with the alliance is because of the farmers’ agitation. “Otherwise, the equation would have been the other way round, in favour of the BJP. But, those who were on the frontlines have not been awarded. Had Akhilesh and Jayant given one ticket in each Lok Sabha constituency to a BKU worker, the move would have put a huge cadre behind them. We are doing our bit, but at present, the Jat community is scattered and none of the other castes remember the agitation anymore,” said a senior leader, adding Mr. Singh was advised to become the Anupriya Patel of the west.

The echo of the Muzaffarnagar riots, he said, was still there on the ground. “We have been able to delete large portions of the ‘cassette’ but have not been to able erase it completely.”

Interestingly, even the BKU leaders admit U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had a better grip on the electorate in the region than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. An undercurrent is that the farm laws were against the Centre and that the Yogi government should be given credit for not even touching the agitating Jat farmers, said a BKU leader.

“After Chaudhary Charan Singh, no political party has done as much for Jats as the BJP has done,” said Sahendra Ramala, the BJP candidate from Chhaprauli who won on the RLD ticket in 2017 but later switched to the ruling party. “The BJP is contesting on the plank suraksha (security) and samman (dignity). It has given greater representation to Jats in the State and Union Cabinets and has appointed three Governors from the community,” he said.

Contesting the claim, Kaptan Singh Chahar, RLD spokesperson in Agra, said numbers didn’t matter, it was the quality of leadership that mattered. “We saw how none of the BJP’s Jat representatives were heard in Delhi when Jat farmers were on the road for more than a year,” he said, adding the BJP was using Jats as foot soldiers in its attempt to “control Muslims” in the Meerut zone and it will not have an impact on the Aligarh and Agra belt.“When the opportunity came to appoint a Jat vice-chancellor for the newly formed Raja Mahendra Pratap University, the State government foisted a Thakur from Gorakhpur on us.”

“From Meerut to Mathura, there is no clear wave for the BJP and issues like inflation and stray cattle are being put up before the party candidates. So, the party’s affiliate groups are in indulging in dog-whistle politics to send a message how Muslims have been ‘controlled’ during the BJP rule,” said Pawan Chaturvedi, a prominent businessman in Mathura who had been with the BJP in the past.

No other go

Muslims feel their unqualified support for the SP has become like that of Dalits for BSP chief Mayawati. “We are nowhere in the scheme of things but still we don’t have any other option to oust the BJP,” said a Muslim leader from Muzaffarnagar, adding Muslims want non-Muslim candidates in the district because they are wary of division on religious lines.

Muslim representatives remind that they took the initiative in bridging the gap by voting overwhelmingly for late RLD supremo Ajit Singh after the Muzaffarnagar riots. “It is the Jats who were found lacking,” said a senior Muslim journalist with a vernacular newspaper.

“Before the farmers’ movement, the Muslims were demoralised completely. After the agitation, they are, at least, assured that Jats would not create trouble for him in the village. Zyadti nahin karenge . Madrasa students are no longer being stopped midway and slapped for no reason. However, whether this change will have political ramifications is still not clear,” said a Muslim teacher in Muzaffarnagar.

Observers said Jats have wide interests in the region and they have enjoyed the cream of power during the BJP rule. “If there are 200 government contractors in Muzaffarnagar, 1,500 of them are Jats,” said a Muslim contractor. “However, when it comes to a local tussle with a Saini or a Kashyap, there is no guarantee that the Jat will have an upper hand at the local police station. It is only when they get into a scuffle with a Muslim that the Jats are given a free run. The community is understanding this difference,” he added.

In most seats, observers, however, said, Muslims were so overwhelmingly laambandh (mobilised) in favour of the alliance that its candidates would not need more than 50% Jat votes. “At least 2 to 4% of the lower OBC vote, which is otherwise polarised towards the BJP, is expected to shift towards the alliance as well when proteges of Swami Prasad Maurya will share their aap beeti (experiences) with the BJP,” said Sokhendra Sharma, assistant professor in Digambar Jain College, Baraut.

The catch, Dr. Sharma said, was the poll percentage of the Muslims. “If it remains around 50%, the BJP will sweep. However, if it goes up to 65%, the alliance will win the major chunk of seats. There is already a talk of pardanashin (veiled) Muslim women would not be allowed to vote without showing their face.”

The Dalit vote

Though remarkably low-key, the BSP’s influence could not be ruled out altogether. It has carefully curated its bouquet of turncoats and has put Muslim candidates in seats where the alliance has given tickets to non-Muslims. “The Dalit vote is going to be decisive in many seats. If it stays with Mayawati, it will help the alliance but even if a small percentage shifts to the BJP, it will create trouble for us,” said Mr. Chahar.

Observers said the alliance has missed an opportunity to carve out the Dalit vote, particularly in the Saharanpur and Agra zones by not aligning with the Azad Samaj Party.

WithUnion Home MinisterAmit Shahkicking off the door-to-door campaign on Saturday from Kairana on the palayan (exodus) pitchand BKU threatening to rake up farm issues again later this month, west U.P. is warming up for some fireworks this winter.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 9, 2022 12:51:09 am | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/uttar-pradesh-assembly/west-up-is-warming-up-for-a-tight-contest-this-winter/article38309946.ece