• “We will bury the BJP in Muzaffarnagar”: Ajit Singh

    Seema Mustafa

    March 12, 2019

    “We will bury the Bharatiya Janata Party in Muzaffarnagar in these elections, the very district it used to create riots divide the voters in western Uttar Pradesh,” asserts Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh at his New Delhi residence. His son Jayant Chaudhary stops for a quick hello as he is rushing to campaign in the family’s traditional seat Baghpat–so secured by Kisan leader and his grandfather Charan Singh— that he is now contesting the parliamentary elections from.

    Ajit Singh, who has just crossed 80 years, has shifted to Muzaffarnagar, a tricky seat and as he admits a little more so now after Balakot that the BJP is cashing in on. The RLD is in coalition with the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, with a good relationship with the Congress party as well. But he is certain he will wrest this Lok Sabha seat from the Bharatiya Janata Party that came to power in the last Lok Sabha polls after 1998, following the violence in the district that pitted the Jats against the Muslims. And broke a combination that had proved almost fatal for the BJP in this belt.

    Interestingly, the RLD and Ajit Singh played a major role in cementing fractured ties between the two communities that were evident in the Kairana by poll where its candidate Tabassum Hasan won supported by the BSP and SP in what was a first ‘experiment’ by the opposition at unity. The BJP had won this seat in 2014, with the byelection necessitated by BJP MP Hukum Singh’s death.

    Ajit Singh visited ten districts in UP on his 79th birthday before the Kairana by poll*, spending a night or two in each, to persuade the Jats and the Muslims to come together. And not be victim to divisive politics. “Your politics will be finished” he told them, pointing out that they were able to determine the course of events only by voting together. “They listened,” he says, and the results were evident in Kairana.

    Muzaffarnagar of course, is different as it bore the brunt of not just violence but an intense campaign of polarisation and hate. Sources said headway had been made in bringing communities together, and more so back onto the RLD platform. But the impact of the Balakot blitz on the Jats, in particular, is not being ruled out by the local politicians. However, this is on the wane and Singh is optimistic that with a consistent campaign this effect will further subside.

    In 2009 the Bahujan Samaj party had secured this seat with almost 37% of the votes. The RLD was second with 34.19% votes. In the 2014 elections, the BJP swept with almost 60 % of the vote share with BSP a low second with 22.77%. But even so, its Dalit base clearly remained intact and this is expected to boost the grand alliance in the polls now.

    Interestingly Muzaffarnagar in western UP that remains a target area for the Yogi Adityanath government, and thus kept simmering, was a keen constituency till 2009 for what is now the opposition grand alliance The BSP, RLD, SP and Congress together had accounted for almost the entire vote with the communal violence from 2013 onwards managing to shift a good chunk–58,98% to be exact—of the vote share to the BJP.

    The Jat vote thus remains crucial for Ajit Singh and the grand alliance. And a lot will depend on what extent the RLD leader who still has a hold in sections of this vote, is able to convince the community to vote for issues concerning their livelihood and well being. Joblessness, agrarian distress had come to dominate the rural hinterland, but the consolidation of the Jat community is again being impacted by Pulwama and Balakot. “We have to go back and campaign on the issues,” RLD leaders said and convince the voters that Balakot will not feed their families.

    Sugarcane prices and the destruction of fields by stray cattle that has grown to enormous proportions in these past years continues to disturb the Jats, the dominant farming community in western UP. “The cows will eat the BJP in western UP,” Singh said.

    However, on the flip side, Muzaffarnagar’s largest khap is of the Balyan community and the BJP’s sitting MP is Dr Sanjeev Kumar Balyan from the same. The RLD is not particularly worried about this, looking at a consolidation of the earlier fractured Opposition votes as the possible winning combination. More so if the Dalits, Yadavs, and Muslims respond to the respective leaders and join the Jats to vote for Ajit Singh.

    Apart from Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat, the third seat allocated to the RLD is Mathura where the BJP has been hyperactive. The party has still not decided on a candidate with the search for a person who can cut into the formidable 50% plus upper caste vote in this Lok Sabha constituency, and yet attract the Jats and the other communities. For the BJP Mathura is a prestigious seat won by Hema Malini who had defeated sitting RLD MP Jayant Chaudhary in 2014, securing 53.29 per cent of the votes. The RLD secured 22,62% of the votes, as against the 52.29% vote share in the 2009 parliamentary elections. At that time the BJP was not even in the reckoning having last won this seat in 1999.


     

    First published in The Citizen.

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