In UP's 'Jatland', BJP's 2014 Gains May Slip Away
Kharad village in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh played host to Jat leaders from eight states and leaders of prominent khap panchayats on January 8. The main agenda of the ‘Jat Sankalp Rally’ was to urge members of the community who had voted for the BJP in droves during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in droves, to ditch the saffron party in the upcoming UP assembly polls.
Jat leaders at a meeting during agitation for reservation at Jassia village of Haryana's Rohtak district. Representative image
New Delhi: Kharad village in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh played host to Jat leaders from eight states and leaders of prominent khap panchayats on January 8.
The main agenda of the ‘Jat Sankalp Rally’ was to urge members of the community who had voted for the BJP in droves during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in droves, to ditch the saffron party in the upcoming UP assembly polls.
“Last year, after the agitation, I met Prime Minister Narendra Modi who assured us that reservations would be given to Jats but the government never fulfilled its promise. They will now learn that Jats across the country stand in solidarity with each other. If they oppress Jats in Haryana, their brothers in western UP will not stay silent. Jats here will vote against the BJP en mass,” he said.
In 2014, Jats had ditched Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which was traditionally seen as the “Jat Party” in the region. RLD’s drubbing was so severe that not only did party chief Ajit Singh lose in his stronghold of Baghpat to BJP’s Satyapal Singh, the party failed to win even a single seat.
For the last year, after the Jat agitation in neighbouring Haryana, silent discontent has been brewing among Jats in western UP. The BJP’s failure to implement Jat quotas is one of many issues the largely agrarian community is irked by. Many feel the BJP government at the center did “nothing” to help farmers whose crops were washed away after unseasonal rains in March 2015.
Moreover, the sugar industry has just begun to come out of one of its worst crises ever. Since sugarcane is one of the major crops in western UP, delay in payments during the time of demonetization has hurt farmers. According to sources in the UP Sugar Mills Association (UPSMA), mills have only managed to pay 52.26% of the dues that they owe to farmers.
All these issues have not helped the BJP’s support within the community, which was key in helping the party sweep 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
According to Naresh Tikait, Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) national president and son of iconic farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, Jats are now scattered. “In 2014, Jats voted overwhelmingly for the BJP and had a lot of hope from the BJP. Now it is clear that this support was mostly due to communal polarization after the Muzaffarnagar riots. Jats were pitted against Muslims and they flocked to the BJP. Now, they are scattered. Some are still with BJP but many have started to sing praises of Ajit Singh again. Some are so disgruntled with both that they are actually considering supporting the Samajwadi Party. Moreover, BJP has done little to help farmers and since.”
“Jats are mostly farmers, they regret voting for BJP. Modi is not seen as a pro-farmer PM. Besides, the Muzaffarnagar riots did more harm than good for Jats. Farm labour, most of whom were Muslims, has fled villages and that has created an economic crisis for them,” he said.
Tikait, who is also the leader of Muzaffarnagar’s influential Balyan Khap, also said demonetization will hurt the BJP even more. “The impact of demonetization was not felt in the cities since ATMs and banks over there are always stacked with cash. It is in the villages, where Jats mostly live, where the full effect has been felt.”
“They were anyway angry at the BJP and this could be the final nail in their coffin. Farmers are unable to buy simple things like fertilizer and it doesn’t help that this move was implemented in the Rabi sowing season,” he added.
The RLD, meanwhile, will be looking to regain the support of its traditional voter base. Trilok Tyagi, national general secretary of the RLD, said, “The 2014 election was an aberration. People voted during a Modi wave and that cannot be repeated again, especially not in an assembly election. Farming communities have always supported our party. They will do so this time as well. Everyone has seen the true face of the BJP.”
For many Jats, they regret not voting for Ajit Singh, their “Chuadhary”. Vinod Jatoli, a Jat farmer in Meerut district, said, “We all regret voting for the BJP. They thought they would make us fight Muslims and rule forever. We are farmers and we want a government that looks out for us. Modi is against farmers and I have decided I am never voting for BJP again.”
“They promised that they would ensure farmers get one and a half times the amount they spend on sowing but that promise, like many others, remains unfulfilled. Many farmers I know committed suicide in 2015 after unseasonal rains in March. BJP did not lift a finger to help them. That is why I am going to vote for RLD again,” he added.
The BJP is aware of this shift. That is why they have been working hard to appropriate the legacy of Jat leader and former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh. 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, said that it is unlikely that Jat votes will consolidate again. “The Jat vote is likely to be scattered this time, split mostly between RLD and BJP. Those who feel they have lost out on important patronage by deserting Ajit Singh will go back to him but communal polarization cannot be underestimated in western UP. Communal issues won’t disappear so soon after the Muzaffarnagar riots. That is why a large section of Jats is likely to stick with the BJP as well. The latest surveys all suggest that BJP is leading in western UP but the RLD will look to make some sort of comeback in the region,” said Rahul Verma of Lokniti-CSDS.
Officially, however, the BJP is certain that they will retain most of their support from 2014. Muzaffarnagar MP and union minister Sanjeev Balyan, a Jat himself, said, “Those who say the BJP has backstabbed a certain community are wrong. The BJP has supported Jat reservations for a long time but the issue is with the courts. The government has nothing to do with denying anybody their rights. I don’t think people will vote along caste lines this time. They will vote for development and the BJP is the only party that can assure that. They will vote for change.”
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