BAGHPAT: People of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand will be voting to elect their governments in the coming days. All eyes, however, are fixed on the outcome from Uttar Pradesh (UP) where the mother of all battles is being fought. After all, UP is India’s most populous and politically important state. The final outcome of Uttar Pradesh assembly elections (being conducted in 7 phases), will have a bearing on Indian General Elections of 2024.
Residents of Western Uttar Pradesh will cast their votes on February 14, 2022. As per the notification of the Election Commission of India, 55 assembly seats spread across nine districts will go for polls during the 1st phase.
Since the stakes are very high, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its rivals Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), have launched a no holds barred campaign. Former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav led SP and RLD are not leaving any stone unturned to ride on the sentiments among the influential Jat voters in this part of Uttar Pradesh to unsettle the BJP applecart. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that held sway over this region, appears to be lagging behind as the battle on the ground is being fought between BJP and SP-RLD combine.
Political pundits are of the opinion that farmers’ protest that went on for over a year, won’t have that much influence on the voters of this politically volatile region, since too much water has flown in the Ganges since then.
The situation on the ground, is not in sync with the claims of the political analysts who have been reading too much into the prospects of SP-RLD against the BJP in the Jat land. I have been touring this part of the country to understand the dynamics. Based on my interactions, I can share that churning among Jat votes is clearly visible. They seem to have developed a liking for the improved governance, especially on the law and order front and round the clock power supply.
In the past, from Chhaprauli to Shamli and from Saharanpur to Mathura, the dominant Jat community have voted for the BJP in 2014-2019 Lok Sabha and 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. This time around, despite the claims made by SP-RLD combined and political watchers, BJP appears to have held its ground. Law and Order, especially security to girls and women during the five year rule of the Yogi Adityanath Government is dominating the political discourse in most of the villages and towns of Western Uttar Pradesh.
Women residing in villages are openly talking about the situation on the ground and how it has become easier for them to go work in the fields, local markets and return to their respective homes unharmed. Situation before 2017 was not the same as criminals were dominant in their aggression, impacting their lives.
Realising that the voting pattern in West Uttar Pradesh will be the trendsetter, the BJP has entered the campaign trail with all guns blazing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit the battleground Uttar Pradesh by holding a virtual rally on January 31. Polls in Uttar Pradesh will be held in seven phases.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah who had successfully led BJP campaigns during 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha Elections and also 2017 UP Assembly polls, has taken it upon himself to ensure that BJP repeats its 2017 performance in West UP. Jats, who have been rooting for the BJP since 2014 Lok Sabha elections, hold the key. Though less in number as compared to other communities and castes, this community holds sway over two-third seats of this politically active region.
BJP poll managers are aware of its umbrella vote bank comprising forward castes, Other Backward Castes (OBCs), minus Yadav, Scheduled caste communities minus Jatavs (considered to be voters of Mayawati-led BSP).
Keeping the poll arithmetic in mind, BJP’s top leadership has pressed its Jat MPs and ministers from other states, to cool down the angst among Jats who continue to be their loyal voters. Many of these leaders are camping and campaigning in districts of Western UP. Their endeavour has been to allay apprehensions among the non-OBCs after the exit of Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan, two non-OBC ministers of the Yogi government. Home Minister Amit Shah, who as BJP General Secretary had steered BJP to a historic mandate during 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has been holding consultations with the influential Jat and non-OBC elders.
BJP is not leaving anything to chance to cut its losses on both the fronts. Party workers can be seen visiting Jat dominated villages to nullify any simmering resentment post the farmers’ protest led by Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, who also hails from famous Shishauli village of Muzaffarnagar district.
Wounds of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots that saw the Jats at the receiving end after the murders of two brothers Sachin and Gaurav and the subsequent riots that engulfed this region after police inaction, have not healed. BJP workers serve as a constant reminder to the Jats on how pathetic the law and order situation was before March 19, 2017. Now that the RLD-SP coalition has fielded Muslims candidates from the Jat dominated assembly segments, how their votes will make the difference remains to be seen. It’s worth mentioning that BJP’s campaign got a boost after a few videos with supporters of Nahid Hasan, the SP MLA from Kairana seat, threatening Jat voters in case they voted against Hasan, went viral. It evoked strong reactions from the Jats, who have not forgotten the 2013 Muzaffar Nagar riots that had seen many of their near and dear ones being killed.
Sensing the disquiet among the Jat community, BJP has gone for the kill. Its volunteers are touring villages and meeting elders and youngsters to convince them about the importance of their vote. According to an estimate, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has fielded more than 150 thousand workers to establish contacts with each and every voter.
The final outcome of the Western UP assembly seats will also decide the political future of Jayant Chaudhary, the grandson of former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh. Jayant who was in the shadows of his late father Ajit Singh, is fighting the political battle of his life. This election can make or mar his career. The general refrain among people from Chhaprauli to Khatauli does not augur well for him, as people are weighing options to vote for the BJP that will form the next government in the state rather than voting for a party that does not seem to be going far. Overall, Western UP offers an exciting contest among the political rivals. Whether the BJP manages to retain its core base or would the SP-RLD coalition score over them, will be known on March, 10, 2022 when the results will be declared.