Noida: Jayant Chaudhary, the usually soft-spoken son of Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, was seen thundering at a rally in western UP’s Bulandshahr last month. “We want that farmers should come out on the streets and tell this government – yeh bijli ke bill chukana humare bas ki baat nahi hai (paying these power bills is not our cup of tea),” he said to a crowd that broke into an applause. For nearly a month, Chaudhary has been on the road, holding rallies, drawing crowds and meeting farmers across UP.
The RLD on July 13 launched the ‘Pol Khol, Dhava Bol’ (expose, attack) campaign. Chaudhary, who has for all practical purposes taken over the reins of his party from his father, has been the face of this campaign.
“The campaign began on July 13 and will end on August 13, just two days ahead of Independence Day. Jayant will travel 40 districts out of UP’s 75 districts. Ours is a party of farmers and we will fight to the last breath against the anti-farmer Modi and Yogi governments,” Trilok Tyagi, RLD general secretary, told News18.
On August 13, after Jayant’s concluding rally, RLD workers across UP have made plans to gherao power stations. “This is a movement is against rising power tariffs. The bills of farmers have doubled, even domestic connections in rural areas have become expensive. Farmers can’t live like this. The government’s claim of doubling farmers’ incomes is a lie because the input cost is constantly rising. Effectively, farming has become a loss making venture,” Tyagi added.
The ‘Pol Khol, Dhava Bol’ campaign began from Agra and will culminate in Baghpat district, which was represented in the Lok Sabha by Chaudhary’s grandfather and former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh. The choice of Baghpat, which also later represented by Ajit Singh, is a strategic one. It represents the RLD going back to its base, the Jats of western UP, but also represents a generational shift in Jat politics. Like his father and grandfather before him, Jayant’s foray into Baghpat’s politics is a rite of passage.
A leader from the RLD said, “While nothing is set in stone yet, there is a very strong possibility that Jayant may contest the 2019 elections from Baghpat. Chaudhary Sahib (Ajit Singh) may vacate the seat, because now is the time for a generational shift. Keeping that in mind, Jayant’s yatra becomes even more crucial.”
According to RLD sources, the “shift” took place during the Kairana Lok Sabha bypoll in May. At 39, Chaudhary is the heir apparent to his 79-year-old father. With the entire strength of the opposition behind it, RLD found a lifeline in Kairana and Jayant grabbed it with both hands.
“He spent around 10 days in the Kairana Lok Sabha area and in that time, he covered at least 125 villages. He was touching 15-20 villages in a day. He was received with the same love and warmth by locals as his father is received,” Tyagi said.
RLD leaders said it was Jayant who reached out to Kanwar Hassan, the brother-in-law of RLD candidate Tabassum Hassan, and urged him to withdraw his candidacy. A meeting was held in Jayant’s presence and Kanwar returned to the family fold and to the RLD. The fight was now, once again, a straight one between the BJP and a united opposition.
On one hand, the party wants to strengthen its base in western UP, on the other it may be looking to expand to other areas of UP. During his yatra, Chaudhary visited several areas of eastern and central UP such as Sant Kabir Nagar and Lakhimpur Khiri as well. But this is not just a message to the BJP but also to allies.
A Samajwadi Party leader said, “Jayant and Akhilesh Yadav have been in constant touch with each other. RLD wants to flex its muscles before a seat-sharing agreement is finalised. It wants to show us that it is a serious party with a strong base. This yatra may help them in negotiations.”
But the prime reason behind this yatra, perhaps, is to energise RLD workers who have been deflated ever since 2014. The BJP’s sweep of Uttar Pradesh during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, where it won 71 of the 80 seats in the state, left many parties in shambles. None more so, perhaps, than RLD. Once a force among Jat voters in western UP, the party failed to win even a single seat in 2014.
The fortunes of the party did not turn in 2017 either. RLD leaders insist that Jayant’s yatra has turned things around. “The mood in the party is buoyant. First, we won the Kairana Lok Sabha seat and now Jayant is drawing huge crowds on his own. Under him, we can hope for a bright future and the party’s revival,” an RLD leader said.