Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked Charan Singh in an election rally in Bijnor on Friday in a bid to woo Jat voters of western Uttar Pradesh. Ironically, one of the grudges many members of this community hold is that Modi didn’t remember the former PM on his birth anniversary, December 23, last year. “Modi ne to Chaudhary sahab (Charan Singh) ki photo pe maala tak nahi chadhayi. Ye to beizzati wali baat kar di (Modi didn’t even put a garland on Charan Singh’s photo on December 23. It was an insult),” Suraj Malik, a 32-year-old Jat farmer from Pinna village in Muzaffarnagar said Thursday, after attending a Rashtriya Lok Dal rally. The district goes to polls Saturday.
“Kuchh time pehle tak to BJP ki hawa thi thodi bohot. Bade-boodhe to Lok Dal ke saath they, par jawan ladko ka rujhaan to kaafi ‘Kamal’ pe bhi tha. Par jaise logo ko is baat ka pata chala phone se, WhatsApp se, tab se saare khilaaf ho gaye. Ab to ‘nalka’ chal pada har jagah (Until recently, there was some BJP influence, but when people came to know what Modi did, everyone turned against them. Now it’s ‘Handpump’ everywhere),” said Suraj, as he watched Jayant Chaudhary, Charan Singh’s grandson, take off in his helicopter.
Suraj was a toddler when Charan Singh passed away. Why, then, is the farmer leader important to him? “Unhone hame pehchan di hai (He gave us an identity),” Suraj said. Meanwhile, a rural-urban divide seems to be at play. “The urban Jat is more likely to vote for BJP,” says Vikas Baliyan, who publishes a daily Krishi Nazar. “As land holdings reduced over time and farming became uneconomical, many families moved to towns in search of jobs, education and for a better quality of life. Over the years, their problems have become different from those in the villages. The BJP saw it and seized the opportunity. If we say the rural and urban Jat population is 70:30, the BJP has captured a decent chunk of the latter.”
But if employment and education are the urban Jat’s main concerns, it would seem natural that the reservation demand in Haryana may impact the BJP’s chances among the Jats in western UP. Baliyan disagrees. “The reservation agitation had little impact here. This is because Jats here have been in the state’s backward list for the last decade and a half. Also, the Jat politics of Haryana has traditionally been different from the Jat politics of UP. So I think the BJP will still get a fair chunk of votes among urban Jats. But in rural areas, most will vote for RLD.”
Charan Singh’s politics revolved around a combination of OBCs, including Jats, and Muslims. So, if the economic migration weakened his legacy, the Jat-Muslim fissure after the 2013 riots further diminished it.
While Ajit Singh and his son are attempting to bridge the divide, some say it will take time. “Waqt lagega,” says Ibrar Ahmad, a retired teacher, who was a Charan Singh supporter. Ahmad is both a Muslim and a Jat, or Mula-Jat as they are called here. “Chaudhary sahab ka zamana aur tha. Sab ek hi to they. Bhai wo bhi Jat aur ham bhi Jat, bas ham Musalmaan bhi they. Kabhi koi jhagda nahi hota tha. Par unke jaane ke baad mahaul aisa bana, firkaparsti aa gayi. Unke guzarne ka sab-se bada faayda to BJP ko hua. San 87 mein vo guzre, aur 1991 mein UP mein BJP ki sarkaar aa gayi thi. (Chaudhary sahab’s time was different. Hindu and Muslim Jats were one. But after his death, the atmosphere became communal. The BJP benefited the most. He died in 1987, BJP formed their first government in UP in 1991).”