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5-min read

As UP Mahagatbandhan Takes Shape, Ajit Singh’s RLD Looks to Script Comeback

The BJP sweep of Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections – it won 71 of the 80 seats – left many parties in a shambles.

Uday Singh Rana | News18.com@UdaySRana

Updated:January 17, 2017, 5:41 PM IST
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Ajit Singh
File photo of Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh. (PTI)

The BJP sweep of Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections – it won 71 of the 80 seats – left many parties in a shambles. But no party felt such a severe existential threat as Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which had to surrender its citadel of Western UP lock, stock and barrel to a BJP, riding high on the Narendra Modi wave.

To add insult to injury both the party supremos, Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary, failed to retain their own seats. Chowdhury Charan Singh’s legacy, it seemed, had taken a fatal blow.

But all that and more is set to change and the RLD is primed for a return, claim party mavens. The Jat voters who had switched sides from RLD to BJP in 2014 are now returning and the SP- Congress-RLD alliance on the axis will comprehensively win back all the deserters, goes their argument.

“We have been saying for over a year that secular, pro-farmer forces need to come together in UP and all over India. Now that the alliance is taking shape, the RLD will become part of it. We are yet to finalize a seat-sharing agreement with them (SP) but secular forces coming together is good for the state,” Trilok Tyagi, RLD general secretary and close aide of Ajit Singh, told News18.

According to Jayant Chaudhary, who is also the party’s general secretary, Modi government’s “anti-farmer” policies are to blame for the disillusionment.

“We are a party that has always spoken for the interests of farmers and the people know that. The anti-farmer policies of the Modi government pushed agrarian communities further away from the BJP. They promised many things, such as rise in MSP, but never delivered. After an agrarian crises, caused by unseasonal hailstorms followed by a drought, Modi did nothing to help farmers. Moreover, the government in Haryana responded to the Jat agitation with violence. People will not forget that. There is a great deal of resentment among them,” he told News 18.

BJP, too, is mindful of the gains the RLD is likely to make. A senior BJP leader, who did not wish to be identified, said, “There is no doubt that a large section of Jats will move away from us and towards the RLD. They (RLD) will make gains in this election and get some more seats than people expect them to. There is a clear pro-Ajit sentiment among Jats. For that reason, we will do better in eastern UP than in western UP.”

BJP leaders have been working hard to appropriate Charan Singh’s legacy. Last month during a public meeting in Baghpat, BJP MP Satyapal Singh hailed Charan Singh as the “true messiah of farmers”. He even took a dig at Ajit Singh, who is the late PM’s son, by saying he was against those playing the “politics of nepotism”.

Analysts, however, feel that RLD’s gains would depend upon whether the party will be able to clinch an alliance. Pranav Gupta of Lokniti-CSDS felt the RLD will gain as compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha election. “This is primarily so because a section of the Jat vote, that had shifted to the BJP, would come back to the party. Whether it ends up making substantial gains in terms of seats will depend on whether the Congress-RLD-Akhilesh alliance happens,” he said.

RLD has been aggressively pursuing alliances with different political parties for over a year. After cementing an alliance with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD (U), both Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary held extensive meetings with both SP and Congress. As early as May last year, Singh held a meeting with SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav in Lucknow while Chuadhary was sent to Delhi to parlay with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. When the alliance talks hit a brick wall, the RLD also dabbled with the BSP.

According to party sources, Ajit Singh was so concerned with the feud in the Samajwadi Party that he deputed his son-in-law Vikramaditya Singh to hold back-room talks with the BSP earlier this month. Those talks did not yield any results either.

For years, RLD has been hobnobbing with different alliances. In 2004, RLD contested the Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the SP and won three seats. In 2009, they allied with the BJP and won five seats before switching to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2011. Ajit Singh also served as minister of civil aviation in the Manmohan Singh cabinet.

According to sources, the party has asked the SP for around 30-40 seats while the Congress has asked for around 120-150. The RLD has also said that it would like to contest in districts with a heavy concentration of Jats such as Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar and Mathura.

Jayant Chaudhury says the party has been working on its cadres to build some kind of momentum. “It is true that the cadre was a little disappointed but we made sure that the energy never left the party. We have had more public outreach programs in the last two years than any other party. We have been going to our workers and they have been going directly to the people. Even though we suffered losses in 2014, we never made them feel like the party had abandoned them. As a result, we have been successful in staging a comeback,” Chaudhary said.

The road ahead, however, would be tough unless an alliance takes shape. “If the alliance takes shape, then we may be part of the next government. If it doesn’t then Mayawati will win. It all depends on Muslim votes and they will not waste their vote on us if we are all scattered,” an RLD source said.

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| Edited by: Mirza Arif Beg
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