Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav have grabbed plenty of attention for having forged a new kind of politics in UP. It is said the alliance taking place and its execution, has ushered in a generational change, in two often antagonistic parties.
A third scion, of an important force in Uttar Pradesh politics, has been Jayant Chaudhary, the son of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)’s Ajit Singh and general secretary of the party who has been criss-crossing West UP, and has almost simultaneously effected a generational change in his party too. Jayant was an MP from Mathura in 2009 and made his mark in the Lok Sabha through speeches and participation in Committees. But that was just this alumnus from the London School of Economics testing political waters. This time, the challenges are for real. After the smoke that emanated from the trouble in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 threatened to snuff out any possibility of politics that brought the Jats and Muslims together, it has fallen upon 39-year old Jayant Chaudhary’s shoulders to try and reconfigure politics and find space for the RLD.
Jats are said to be a significant factor in the 26 districts of West UP, which will vote in two phases on February 11 and 15. In 2012, RLD contested 46 seats and won 9. But in 2014, the party suffered a rout.
Is it not tough to recover lost ground? Speaking to The Indian Express in Shikarpur just after a rally in the fields, he says; “the passage of time always helps. scares heal over time and people don’t want to just live in that time, they want out and want to move on. Economic ties and social ties are still very strong.” He says he sees those pushing Muzaffarnagar memories as helping his cause. “I believe that the more they talk about the same old issues, Yogi Adityanath is going around, Sangeet Som is going around, and the Thana Bhawan MLA is speaking of curfews in cities, the more they do this, people are going to look at progressive leadership. And we are providing that.” Chaudhary says RLD has “taken together all caste equations, people from different communities and put them up as candidates.” He says that “we have put up Muslims in areas most affected and we think that is working.”
With all this being done, and talk of a ‘minigatbandhan’, why is the RLD not in alliance with SP and Congress? RLD incidentally, had fought alongwith the Congress in the last elections. Is there a hidden understanding?
“”No understanding. It broke down. It was not approached in the right manner and perhaps their strategy was to squeeze us. We understood this at the right time and our support base, our workers, are happy for it.”
In the polling to be in the first phase, on February 11, in West UP, even if the RLD does not win several seats, a lot could hinge on its performance. If it is able to take significant sections of the Jat vote, its traditional base, which voted almost en masse for the BJP in 2014, it would have an important bearing on the eventual result.
Speaking to farmers in the region, like Ombir, the disenchantment with the BJP and notebandi is expressed clearly. “Kisano ke saath theek nahi kiya BJP ne. Kisan line men lage, shaadi mein kharch nahi kar paaye, kayi bachchon ke to daakhle tak nahi ho sake.”
Others too chime in on the agrarian distress which has seen low prices for crops, non-fulfilment of promises and “kisan-virodhi” steps. Another farmer says “several halves of agricultural fields remained unsown as the notebandi suddenly happened leaving us at a loose end.”
The RLD, especially under Ajit Singh has had a legacy of also switching sides dramatically under the pretext of keeping farmers in power at all times. Farmers this time don’t see that as an option.
It was five decades ago that the formidable Charan Singh broke rank with the Congress party and was the Chief Minister of the state. How does Chaudhary propose to carry that legacy forward in 2017? “Politics is very dynamic, UP is going to change. Political landscapes don’t always remain the same. Legacy issues are always tricky. I can’t be judged by the highest standards he (Charan Singh) set. I have my own ways of working and thinking. But I have a responsibility, I am passionate and committed and I am working, which is why I am here. So hopefully, people will see that.”
While predictions by pollsters and analysts in UP are changing every day, what is clear is that the state is in a flux and political fortunes may swing wildly. The purpose of the RLD is to replant its flag here, rediscover and demonstrate its political strength. “My aim is not to win one election and gather a few MLAs. I do intend to do much more.”
So with two other sons Gandhi and Yadav having taken a big gamble, what is his comment? “Everything is up for grabs”, he smiles wryly before being hustled by the pilot of his chopper to belt up immediately.