Keeping the Jat farmer’s swagger alive, Jayant walks a fine line with the BJP

The RLD chief is courting the BJP without alienating his own core farming constituency; nurturing his Gurjar and Muslim vote base; disarming dynasty accusations by giving Baghpat ticket to a non-family candidate

Updated - March 31, 2024 07:23 am IST

Published - March 31, 2024 12:01 am IST - HAPUR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Jayant Chaudhary, grandson of former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, as the latter arrives to receive Bharat Ratna on behalf of his grandfather during a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi, on March 30, 2024.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Jayant Chaudhary, grandson of former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, as the latter arrives to receive Bharat Ratna on behalf of his grandfather during a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi, on March 30, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

With the Bharat Ratna having been officially and posthumously bestowed on former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, his grandson, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Chaudhary Jayant Singh, will share the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time after he joined the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Meerut on March 31.

Having secured two Lok Sabha tickets, one Cabinet berth in Uttar Pradesh, and a member in the State Legislative Assembly, political observers feel that Mr. Singh has got a good bargain from the BJP, and is now following a calibrated approach to keep his own core constituency intact.

At the Amroha rally for the BJP candidate Kanwar Singh Tanwar earlier this week, Mr. Singh was the star speaker. Before he took the microphone, a local BJP leader was screaming, “Jai Shri Ram”. Mr. Singh calmly opened his address with “Ram Ram Ji”.

Wrestling for farmers

The next stopover was Bijnor where the RLD has fielded its MLA Chandan Chauhan. There, Mr. Singh told the raucous crowd that the figure of 400 does not just mean the number of Lok Sabha seats that the NDA is confident of winning. “It also means that the State-approved price of sugarcane will also cross ₹400 per quintal after the polls,” he said, looked across at his BJP counterparts, who had no other option but to nod.

His party had zero MPs in the 2019 Lok Sabha, but Mr. Singh nonchalantly claimed that when the two biggest wrestlers of the region join hands, there is no contest left.

Aggressive edge

This means three things. One, Mr. Singh is not buying into the age-old polarising agenda of his new ally. RLD posters still carry the images of Maulana Azad and Bhimrao Ambedkar.

Second, he is nurturing the Gurjar vote base. Both Mr. Tanwar and Mr. Chauhan hail from a community that is often hyphenated with Jats; those who understand the caste politics of the region, however, know that the two agrarian castes share a turbulent relationship in the battle for political clout in the region.

Third, he is retaining an aggressive stance, what he calls the “haua (fear)“ of Jat farmer aggression alive.

Disarming dynasty accusations

Mr. Singh has dismantled the parivarvadi (dynasty) jibe that the BJP used to make against his party by giving a ticket to veteran party worker Rajkumar Sangwan from his family’s traditional Baghpat seat. Now, he is using the same stick of dynasty politics against Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav who was, till recently, his partner.

The RLD leader is carefully drawing parallels between his grandfather and the Modi-led government. While comparing the two, he emphasises their common ichchashakti (political will) to fulfill their promises and their strong anti-corruption stance.

At the same time, taking a cue from the BJP playbook, Mr. Singh is goading Jat farmers to bring their wives to political rallies and promoting the financial inclusion of women in this deeply patriarchal belt. At the Brij Samman ceremony in Mathura earlier this month and in Bijnor this week, he quoted from the National Family Health Survey results that 78% of women have bank accounts. “Mahila jo faisle leti hai woh dharatal se jude hote hain. (The decisions that women take are rooted in ground reality.) Give them a chance,” he beseeched an all-male audience, many of whom were seen squirming in their dhotis.

Farmer agitation fallout

At Noorpur (Hapur), the birthplace of Chaudhary Charan Singh, the locals rejoiced at the award given to the son of their soil on Saturday. The sense was that, whatever numbers the BJP can get in the Lok Sabha, it cannot do without the RLD in western U.P. “It was the gain of the farmer agitation. Even if they win all the seats in the region, we can force them to roll back any anti-farmer policy,” said Bijendra Singh, an elder member of the Tewatia clan.

Mahavir Singh, the oldest surviving member of the clan who had closely interacted with Chaudhary Charan Singh, said that Jayant’s alliance had given him strength. The SP was playing tricks with him but he had to make the BJP listen to the farmers’ voice, he said, adding, “The immediate problem is stray cattle and pricing of urea. I am wary of the BJP people who keep educating me on gau mata. I maintain silence.”

Mr. Bijendra Singh said that the comparison of “Chaudhary sahib with Mr. Modi” was misplaced. “Chaudhary sahib didn’t have an autocratic streak and it is his legacy that minorities feel secure in this area,” he said.

Supporting Muslim representation

RLD national secretary Kuldeep Ujjwal said that, whether it was land reforms or an increase in the number of sugar mills, the farmers have genuinely gained whenever the RLD had been in power. “The possibilities are immense. We have joined the NDA for the cause of farmers. At the same time, we are for political representation for minorities and will continue to give tickets for legislative bodies to our Muslim brothers.”

Padam Singh, the BJP-supported pradhan (village head) of Noorpur, said that the alliance would prevent the division of the Jat vote. In neigbouring Muslim-dominated Bhameda, pradhan Mohd Aslam said that his community sees Mr. Singh as a “madhyam (medium)“ to connect with the BJP. “There is no discrimination in the government schemes and the RLD will hopefully continue to provide us political representation and a sense of security. Sometimes, we feel the BJP rants against Muslims to keep their core constituency occupied,” he said.

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