The residents of Tukali, a Dalit hamlet, finally took a sigh of relief when the linesman arrived and climbed the electric pole. They had spent almost a day without electricity. As the linesman, who stood precariously on the row of horizontal wires, worked, the Dalits waited below impatiently, recounting their daily struggles. They complained it was usual for the administration to disregard their grievances, pointed to the poor condition of the roads and joblessness created by the shutting down of local factories post demonetisation.
“We want Modi to lose. He is bent against us. We are not given any facilities,” said Pradeep Jatav, summarising the mood of the Dalits.
In 2014, BJP’s Satyapal Singh, former Mumbai top cop, trounced SP’s Ghulam Mohammad by over two lakh votes, while Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh was relegated to the third position in his bastion.
This time, the contest is polarised between two Jats: Union Minister Satyapal Singh and Ajit Singh’s son Jayant Chaudhary. To make up the deficit — the RLD trailed the BJP by 2.23 lakh votes — Jayant is relying on the SP and the BSP, with the latter providing the solid votebank of Jatavs, like those in Tukali.
“Even if she [Mayawati] nominates a pup, our vote will go with it. We will vote for Jayant Chaudhary,” said a Jatav resident.
While communal polarisation following the Muzaffarnagar riots and the breakdown of the Jat-Muslim relationship pushed the BJP to a big win here in 2014, the combined vote of the SP, the BSP and the RLD — 5.54 lakh — was still 1.30 lakh more than the BJP.
Jats and Muslims are the two largest groups in the constituency, once held by Chaudhary Charan Singh. While Muslims are strongly backing the RLD, the mood among the Jats is mixed. Those supporting him cited non-payment of cane dues, increase in power tariffs and joblessness under the BJP government. Those in favour of Satyapal Singh praised him for building roads while also expressing support towards Mr. Modi and viewed the alliance with disdain.
By a local BSP leader’s own admission, “around 40%” of the Jats are still with the BJP, as Satyapal Singh is a local jat. “Even if this increases further, it will be compensated by the support of our base votes — Jatavs, Yadavs and Muslims —- which have been consolidated,” he said.
For the BJP, victory depends on not just the Jats, but also the consolidation of Gurjars, OBCs like Kashyaps and Sainis and the BJP’s bedrock, the upper castes.
A few kilometres from Tukali, Sumit Kumar, a Gurjar, runs an eatery outside a police check-post. He is firmly behind the BJP and hails PM Modi for giving the forces a free hand [Balakot airstrike].
“The road outside was built by the BJP. It used to have potholes earlier,” adds Sumit.
In the 2017 Assembly polls, the only seat the RLD won was Chhaprauli in Baghpat.
However, soon after, its lone MLA Sahendra Ramala, a Jat, was expelled for cross-voting during the Rajya Sabha polls and joined the BJP.
To connect with the Jats and farmers, the RLD is relying on the legacy of Jayant’s grandfather, Chaudhary Charan Singh. “It’s true our relationship is old, but here I'm standing like a blank paper. People need to make a new start,” said Jayant, addressing a nukkad sabha in Shabanpur village.
Appealing to farmers, he said his father Ajit Singh had “fought for them” even while not in power.
BJP president Amit Shah, who addressed a rally in support of Satyapal Singh in Baghpat on Sunday, used Charan Singh to target dynasty politics.
“By not making his son his [political] heir, Chaudhary Sahab sent a very big message to U.P....Whoever works for the farmers and development of the area, he will be the heir of Chaudhary Charan Singh,” said Mr. Shah.
‘Bhavna v/s Bhavishya’
Satyapal Singh himself believes that the youth won’t fall for “bhavna” (emotions) but will vote for “bhavishya” (future). Starting off his campaign from his native village Basauli last week, he dismissed the arithmetic of the anti-BJP alliance, saying “only chemistry” will work in Baghpat. “People will set aside their caste, community and religion and vote for development, governance and security,” he told reporters.