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Ajit Singh faces BSP challenge on home turf

What began as a dull contest in Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh’s bastion in Baghpat has slowly turned into a triangular fight among the RLD...

Written by SUDHAKAR JAGDISH | Baghpat |
May 7, 2009 1:24:07 am

What began as a dull contest in Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh’s bastion in Baghpat has slowly turned into a triangular fight among the RLD,BSP and the Congress in this sugar bowl of Uttar Pradesh.

A decade after Ajit Singh had tasted defeat for the first time from here,RLD workers are going through some anxious moments. A pocket borough of the Chaudharys,the people of Baghpat have been voting for Ajit Singh and his father,former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh,since 1971. The family commands such loyalty that Ajit Singh has won from here irrespective of which party had given him a ticket — he contested as a Janata Dal candidate in 1989 and 1991,Congress in 1996 and RLD from 1999.

This time,however,political equations in the area seem to be changing. As Congress candidate Sompal Shastri — who on a BJP ticket had defeated Ajit Singh in 1998 — puts it: “in a fortnight,the political alignment in this constituency has changed dramatically.”

Sompal Shastri,however,is not giving RLD workers sleepless nights. It’s the aggressive BSP,which has pitted 28-year-old Mukesh Sharma. The locals know Sharma as the brother of Guddu Pandit — BSP MLA from Deebai who had defeated Kalyan Singh’s son Rajveer in the last Assembly elections. Pandit is leaving no stone unturned to see his brother victorious. From launching caustic attacks at the RLD and hurling allegations of booth capturing,Mayawati’s men are also allegedly intimidating villagers.

“On May 7,we will not allow RLD men to resort to halwa-khalwa (sweets-sticks). In previous elections,RLD men used to ask polling parties either to eat sweets or get beaten up by sticks. But this time we will not allow this to happen,” a close confidante of Mukesh Sharma told The Indian Express.

Even Ajit Singh admits that his contest is with the BSP. “The state administration is totally favouring the ruling BSP,” he said. So,he is urging his party workers not to turn complacent,one of the factors that he says led to his defeat in the 1998 elections.

Just 40 km from the nation’s Capital,the lack of development in Baghpat is glaring. Depleting groundwater level,hardly any power supply and unemployment with no industries are the most talked about problems here. But when it comes to voting,leaders admit the caste factor matters the most.

“It doesn’t matter what the issues are,people here vote on caste lines. It has always been like this here,” said a local BSP leader.

“The key to winning here is the ‘Jam’ combination — Jat and Muslims. These voters had been helping Ajit Singh to win,” said a local BSP worker.

RLD workers admit that this time the party will not get the amount of Muslim votes it got in previous elections. Instead,the party is banking on “passive” BJP votes to compensate for the loss. “Passive” because BJP voters are not vocal and do not wear their political allegiances on their sleeves,said Singh. The RLD also believes that fractured Muslim votes will work in its favour.

However,the Congress,BSP and Samajwadi Party all claim Muslims are rooting for them. It is not clear how the community will vote this time. Influential members of the community are not publicly making their choice clear. As 72-year-old Azam Khan says,“I always prefer a horse that can win.”

The BSP is pinning its hopes on its effort to forge a rainbow caste equation of Dalits,Muslims and Brahmins. BSP campaigners believe that to the tally of 2.4 lakh Dalits and Brahmin voters,a big chunk of Muslim votes could tilt the scale in their favour.

Another problem for Ajit Singh is the presence of two other Jat candidates in the fray — Sompal Shastri and Sahab Singh of the SP. An upbeat Sompal,who left the BJP for the Congress after Baghpat was allotted to the RLD as part of the alliance agreement,said,“Among the Jats,people know I will be the one who will carve out the biggest chunk from Ajit Singh’s share.”

Baghpat

Key candidates

Ajay Singh (RLD)

Mukesh sharma (BSP)

Sahab Singh (SP)

Sompal Shastri (Cong)

BACK STORY

2004 Ajit Singh,RLD

1999 Ajit Singh,RLD

1998 Sompal Shastri,BJP

1996 Ajit Singh,Congress

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