Churn in the Jat community: Farmers' stir may upset the BJP apple cart

The Rashtriya Lok Dal is seeing an opening in western Uttar Pradesh amid anger against the BJP over farm laws
“Jabra mare, rone bhi na de (the powerful beats and won’t let cry)” – that’s how Sushil Balyan, a farmer in a quaint Kutba-Kutbi village of western Uttar Pradesh, sees what the government’s response has been towards the farming community during the ongoing protests.

“Now, we’ll teach the government a lesson,” he says, adjusting himself on a cemented precast bench.

Sushil’s fierce attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attracts the attention of a group of five boys sitting on a verandah nearly 30 feet away. Joining the parley, Rajat Balyan, a 24-year-old BJP supporter, asks, “Fir in Musalmano ka ilaaj kaun karega (then who will deal with these Muslims),” reminding them of the deaths of 20 Hindus during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.

Kutba-Kutbi is one of the villages where eight Muslims were killed by Jats during the communal riots eight years ago. The riots of August-September 2013 created a deep rift throughout the hinterland of westrern Uttar Pradesh.

Since then, the Jats have sided with the BJP, a party known for its anti-Muslim stance.

However, many Jats Business Standard spoke to do not agree with Rajat. They say time is a great healer, and both the communities have come a long way since 2013.

The recent call by prominent Jat farmer leader Rakesh Tikait to reach the Ghazipur border saw unprecedented participation from the Muslim community. This has created a stir in western Uttar Pradesh.

Jayant Chaudhary, grandson of former prime minister Charan Singh and national vice-president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), is trying to retrace his grandfather’s footsteps in uniting the farmers, especially the Jats. According to political observers, the mobilisation of Jat farmers by the RLD after Naresh Tikait (Bharatiya Kisan Union chief and brother of Rakesh Tikait)’s public apology for voting for the BJP and defeating Ajit Singh, Charan Singh’s son and father of Jayant, has created a groundswell of support for the party.

With just a year to go for the Uttar Pradesh elections, the wave of sympathy for the RLD could play spoiler for the BJP in western UP, which accounts for about a fourth of the Assembly constituencies in the state.

Ravi, a young farmer in his twenties in Daurala village, about 84 km from New Delhi, starts discussion by saying “sarkar Hindu-Muslim ke mudde par chal rahi hain. Jis din ye khatam, us din BJP khatam (This government is running on Hindu-Muslim issues. The day these issues end, the BJP will end). He finishes his sentence repeating the word khatam (end) thrice.

Since the BJP brought the Jats within its fold under the “Hindu” banner, the RLD has failed to secure a single Lok Sabha seat in the state. However, the mahagathbandhan among the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, and RLD in UP had helped the party in increasing its vote share from 0.50 per cent in 2014 to 0.90 per cent in the 2019 general election.

The party’s performance was equally dismal in the 2017 Assembly polls, in which it contested in 277 Assembly seats, but 266 of its candidates lost their deposits. Only one RLD candidate won, but he too joined the BJP. Its vote share declined from 2.33 per cent in 2012 to 1.78 per cent in 2017.

Maharban Ali, a doctor in the Budhana Assembly constituency, says the Jats have got their just deserts for allying with the BJP. Interrupting him, octogenarian Ablu Hassan recalls how Chaudhary Sahab (Charan Singh) had warned them never to believe RSS workers. “Now, these Jats are remembering those words,” he says while describing his long-standing association with Charan Singh.

Interestingly, despite Charan Singh’s warnings, whenever the Jats have thought of teaching Ajit Singh a lesson, they have thrown in their lot with the BJP.

Pramod Goswami, political scientist and journalist, says opposition parties are coming together to defeat the BJP after the farmers’ agitation. 

“If the government is not able to convince the farmers then this could be the reverse of the Muzaffarnagar riots for the BJP,” he says.

Sanjeev Balyan, Union minister and BJP MP from Muzaffarnagar, who defeated Ajit Singh in 2019, while accepting the fact that the RLD is trying to revive after the farmers’ agitation, says the agitation is being run on emotions rather than facts.

He points out how Mahinder Singh Tikait, father of Rakesh Tikait, used to advocate a free market for farmers.

“All we are doing is fulfilling his dreams,” he explains.

Chaudhary Pushpendra Singh, president, Kisan Shakti Sangh, does not agree with the minister.

He said: “The government not acceding to the farmers’ demands could affect the BJP’s prospects in UP electorally.”

The Jats tell tales of Charan Singh visiting them in their dreams a night before elections, asking them to vote for Ajit Singh. “Chaudhary Sahab sapne mein aayo or Jat ne nalka ko batan dabayo (Chaudhary Sahab comes in dreams and asks Jats to hit the hand pump — the RLD’s election symbol.)”

“The last thing the BJP needs now is to resurrect the legacy of Chaudhary Charan Singh,” says Ratan Singh Punia, a farmer from Shamli, with a grin as he starts his tractor to reach the protest site.

Twitter: @nitinaayog

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