Around 7 pm Wednesday, an impressive crowd of youngsters and women continue to wait for the Rashtriya Lok Dal candidate from Bijnore at Raipur village, about 30 km from Bijnore town. However, their candidate’s motorcade is running half-an-hour late.
Of the 22 villages in the constituency that BJP candidate Bhartendra Singh represents, Raipur was the 19th which film actor-turned politician RLD candidate Jaya Prada visited. The waiting pays off for the villagers as she arrives in a Toyota Fortuner, dressed in a cream-coloured salwar-kameez. Standing on the footrest of the front door, she introduces herself to her voters: “Main Jaya Prada aapke beech vote maangne aayee hun. Kisano ki ladai ladne aayee hun, Choudhary Charan Singh ka sapna poora karna hai (I, Jaya Prada, have come to you to seek your votes. I will fight for the cause of farmers. I want to fulfill the dreams of Choudhary Charan Singh).”
Jaya’s presence in Raipur clearly indicates the ground work in a very short time in Bijnore since shifting base from Rampur just 10 days back. Raipur is politically significant for RLD as it has not only a good number of Jat voters, but Muslim voters as well who have always backed Jats in past elections.
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In Bijnore, part of Western UP’s Jat-land, Jaya faces a major challenge to stop young Jat voters from drifting towards the BJP in the forthcoming elections. Her main rival, BJP’s Bhartendra Singh, who was charged with hate speech during Muzaffarnagar riots, is also a Jat.
Jaya’s glamour as a famous film actor has once again started working in her favour in her new constituency Bijnore. Hit songs from her film ‘Sharabi’, co-starring Amitabh Bachchan, were played after she ended her meeting at Chandak village late Wednesday evening.
Striking a chord with her listeners, Jaya also recited some Urdu couplets. “Aina saamne ho to tasveer nazar aati hai, Meri tadbir mein meri taqdir nazar aati hai, (My destiny is reflected in the reality of the present)” she said assuring voters she would stay in Bijnore after winning the election. She also highlighted her “pro-development image” in Rampur which she has represented in the Lok Sabha for one decade. “Rampur ki charcha aapne suni hogi (You might have heard the development works carried out by me in Rampur),” she said by way of reminding voters that she was no novice to politics.
Another issue which she did not fail to highlight was the Centre’s recent decision to include Jats in the list of OBC for reservation in government jobs. She also assured people she was not an outsider and was here to stay for five years.
In her first round of campaigning, Jaya also visited villages with considerable presence of Bengali, Sikhs, Thakurs and Sainis. “She knows Bengali and easily interacts with Bengali voters who number around 50,000 in this constituency,” said Mustafa, who handles Jaya’s election affairs in Bijnore.
Her success in this election depends on her ability to keep in tact the RLD’s traditional vote bank of Jat-Muslims. The SP has fielded Shanawaz Rana while the BSP candidate is Malook Nagar. Both are eyeing Muslim votes in the wake of Muzaffarnagar riots and thus Jaya’s work to prompt Muslim voters to stay with RLD is indeed a tough ask.
While Jaya and Ajit need each other for their political survival, if her glamour helps her entry into Parliament, it would also be helpful for RLD chief Ajit Singh to stop the growing distraction of young Jats from the ‘kisan’ tag.