Updated: December 13, 2021 1:25:55 pm
The farmers’ protest may now be over, but both the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) see the anger over the Centre’s farm laws boosting their chances in western Uttar Pradesh. Sources said that the newly minted alliance, especially after the reception to its first joint poll rally, addressed by Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Chaudhary, is working out a seat deal under which the RLD will contest 40 constituencies.
The SP may field its candidates in a few seats on the RLD symbol, and RLD nominees might likewise contest on the SP’s symbol in others – to ensure the constituency arrangements are as smooth as possible, particularly when 40 for the RLD seems a best ask.
Akhilesh and Chaudhary went out of their way to project bonhomie at their joint rally, with the SP national president talking of “deputy chief ministership” and the RLD national convenor indicating he was ready to accept Akhilesh’s leadership.
While the SP remains a powerful force across UP, the RLD has been dwindling even in its west UP stronghold despite being not too choosy about the parties it ties up with. Its best performance so far has been 14 seats, out of the 38 it contested in alliance with the BJP, in the 2002 Assembly elections, all in west UP. In the last Assembly polls, in 2017, when it contested alone, it won only one seat, with the winning MLA (Sahendra Singh Ramala from Chhaprauli) later expelled for cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha elections.
In between, it tried contesting alone in 2007, and tying up with the Congress (2012 and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections), as well as both the SP and BSP (2019 Lok Sabha polls) – but could never cross the 14 mark.
At the same time, the RLD’s vote share in two of its strongest Lok Sabha seats, Mathura and Baghpat, gives it hope. While the party got 22.62% votes in Mathura and 19.86% in Baghpat in 2014, this stood at 34.21% and 48% respectively in 2019.
Party leaders say that the dip in 2014 was on account of the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, which pitted the Jats and Muslims of the area — both its supporters — against each other, and polarised the election.
Starting with the late RLD chief Ajit Singh, the party has tried to bridge the gap between the two communities, as well as the upper and backward caste groups in the region, through “bhagidari sammelans”. The process has been helped along by the anger over the farm issues, which runs like a common thread through west UP, across groups.
The RLD’s manifesto promises 50% reservation for women in jobs, employment to one crore youths, and priority to farmer issues. After the Centre scrapped the new farm laws, the RLD said it would keep up the pressure on issues like Minimum Support Price (MSP). At the rally with the SP, one of the RLD’s slogans was ‘Kisanon ka inqelab hoga, 2022 mein badlav hoga (There will be a revolution led by farmers, a change in 2022)’.
Another factor lending the RLD confidence is Chaudhary. It’s the first election for the RLD without Ajit Singh, who died in May this year due to Covid complications. The 42-year-old Chaudhary, a post-graduate in finance from the UK, joined politics only in 2009 as an MP from Mathura, and a party leader said the challenge before him is tall. “Jayant has to take decisions with eye on taking the party forward,” the leader said.
However, the party believes Chaudhary’s youth, and the fact that he doesn’t carry the baggage of father Ajit Singh’s frequent political shifts, are helping him.
Chaudhary has held over two dozen public meetings in western UP, in areas where the RLD did well in past elections, as part of ‘Ashirwad Path’, with slogans like ‘Sarvasamaj ka ashirwad, Chaudhary Jayant Singh ke saath’.
Said RLD spokesperson Kaptan Singh Chahar: “The joint rally with the SP in Meerut got overwhelming support from public. Social equations have changed in favour of an alliance. There were people from all castes and communities at the rally. There were Muslims too in large numbers.”
RLD state president Masood Ahmed said Akhilesh and Chaudhary would work out the seat-sharing, adding, “The success of the Meerut rally has proved that the party is set to come to power with the SP in 2022, with Akhilesh as CM.”
2002 Assembly polls: No alliance; contested 38, won 14 (its best performance)
2007 Assembly polls: No alliance; contested 254, won 10
2012 Assembly polls: Alliance with Cong; contested 46, won 9
2017 Assembly polls: No alliance; contested 277, won 1
2014 Lok Sabha polls: Alliance with Cong; contested 8, won 0
2019 Lok Sabha polls: Alliance with SP, BSP; contested 3 seats, won 0
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