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RLD-BJP Alliance: What Does the Changed Political Equations Now Hold for Western Uttar Pradesh?

Jayant Choudhary’s decision to join the NDA alliance is seen as a notable advantage for the RLD, signalling the possibility of the party securing a Lok Sabha seat for the first time in a decade.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath holding a chaupal in Muzzafarnagar. Photo: BJP Media cell

Muzaffarnagar: A motorcycle rally led by the BJP passes through sugarcane fields in Budhana, Muzaffarnagar. The bikes are decorated with flags of the saffron party while a song plays in the background:

‘Mazdoor kisan ke haq mein ye alakh jagai re
RLD aayi re, RLD aayi re’

‘(This awakening is happening in support of labourers and farmers, RLD [Rashtriya Lok Dal] has come, RLD has come).’

These sugarcane plots belong to Shobhan Singh, 80 who has seen the influence of the former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh in Uttar Pradesh politics. A chaupal has been set up, at the edge of the fields, where he sits with a hookah.

Sharing his thoughts, Shobhan says, “Chaudhary Sahib deserved the Bharat Ratna but no past prime minister thought of honouring him in this manner. Now it is natural for Chaudhary Sahib’s grandson Jayant to lean towards the BJP.”

The villagers nod in agreement, puffing on their hookahs, wondering aloud farmer Shivam Choudhary says, “Dadda, do you think that Bharat Ratna alone made Jayant Choudhary distance himself from the INDIA Alliance?”

RLD’s prospects

RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary who is known for his staunch opposition to the BJP truly shocked everyone by parting ways with the Samajwadi Party (SP) and switching loyalties to the NDA within hours of Bharat Ratna award announcement for Chaudhary Charan Singh on February 9.

Next day, while speaking in the Rajya Sabha a turncoat Jayant said aloud, “Having been in the opposition for 10 years, I see shades of Chaudhary Charan Singh’s ideology in the present government’s working style.”

A towering figure in farmer politics, Chaudhary Charan Singh, had devised a caste coalition formula then popularly known ‘MAJGAR’ (Muslim, Ahir, Jat, Gujjar, and Rajput communities) which contributed significantly to his success in the western part of Uttar Pradesh.

Also read: For ‘Bharat Ratna’ Chaudhary Charan Singh, Politics Meant the Art of the Possible

“Chaudhary Charan Singh was a grassroots leader, representing farmers of all castes. However, after his passing away, the party’s appeal diminished, narrowing down to primarily representing the Jat community,” says senior journalist Brijesh Shukla. “The party’s downfall can be attributed to its tendency to align with larger parties like the BJP and Congress, rather than focusing on strengthening its own foundation.”

After the 2014 elections, even the Jat support base of the RLD began to dwindle particularly on account of the divide between Muslims and Jats essentially following the infamous 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots which left more than 65 people dead and thousands displaced.

According to CSDS post-poll studies on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP garnered 77% of the Jat votes, a stark increase from the 7% it received in the 2012 Assembly elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there was a considerable anticipation as an ambitious grand alliance of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and RLD was formed.

With Muslims, Jats and Dalits comprising approximately 60% of the voting population in Western Uttar Pradesh, the RLD harboured high hopes. However, when the results were announced, it sent shockwaves as both Ajit Singh and Jayant Chaudhary lost their seats once again, with the RLD failing to even open its account and the BJP took away 91% of the Jat vote share.

The 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, unfolded against the backdrop of massive farmer protests in the western region that had been ongoing for months. The RLD then in alliance with the SP hoped to bridge the gap between Muslims and Jats. However, the results remained shocking for RLD which failed to win more than 8 of the 33 seats it contested.

Brijesh Shukla says, “When the RLD failed to secure victory despite being part of the grand alliance in 2019 or amidst extensive farmer protests in 2022, when the odds were stacked against the BJP, it’s difficult to see how they could emerge victorious in 2024. Jayant Chaudhary was already fighting a losing battle.”

Jayant Choudhary’s decision to join the NDA alliance is seen as a notable advantage for the RLD, signalling the possibility of the party securing a Lok Sabha seat for the first time in a decade.

BJP’s prospect

In the village of Firozpur Bangar in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath is seen engaging with villagers during a chaupal session, where he acquaints them with various beneficiary schemes initiated by the central and state governments. Additionally, the chief minister launches the BJP’s Gram Parikrama Yatra in the state, slated to cover 50,000 villages across Uttar Pradesh. Following the chaupal, while addressing villagers in a rally, the chief minister says, “Farmers have always greeted each other with ‘Ram Ram,’ ‘Ram Ram Sa,’ or ‘Ram Ramji’. With the divine arrival of Lord Ram on one hand and the recognition of the farmer’s leader, Chaudhary Charan Singh, with the Bharat Ratna on the other, I urge our farmers to convey their felicitations to Prime Minister Modi.”

The chief minister’s speech sheds light on the BJP’s strategy in the region, highlighting four major issues the party is focusing in Western Uttar Pradesh: hindutva, utilising Chaudhary Charan Singh’s legacy to woo Jayant and farmers, beneficiary schemes, and capitalising on Modi’s popularity.

Shamshad Khan, psephologist and managing director of the PEACS news service says, “Chaudhary Charan Singh commands immense respect in the region. By awarding him the Bharat Ratna, the BJP aims to accomplish two objectives: building goodwill among farmers and drawing RLD into their camp, thereby dealing a significant psychological blow to the INDIA alliance and SP.”

Also read: Uttar Pradesh’s Economy: Down the Rabbit Hole and Beyond

Additionally the BJP is also working to get its caste equation right in the region. Laxmi Kant Bajpai, BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Meerut, says, “Not only Jats, but we have also actively connected with numerically smaller communities in the region, such as Tyagis, Sainis, Gujjars, Lohaars, Kahaars, and Kanchis. Moreover, our various beneficiary schemes have significantly benefited these groups, and we expect even stronger support from them in the upcoming election.”

With the BSP steadily losing its hold over its Dalit base, all political rivals are out to grab whatever they can out of the Dalit vote. And BJP appears to be way ahead of others, having already secured a substantial portion of Dalit voters from the BSP, the party is continuing its efforts to expand its support.

BJP leader Asim Arun during a campaign trail. Photo: X/@asim_arun

“The BJP has made substantial efforts toward the upliftment of SC and ST communities. Not only have our welfare schemes greatly benefited these communities but the BJP has also paid homage to icons like Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar and Birsa Munda, instilling confidence that Modi ji’s leadership will continue to empower every downtrodden,” says Asim Arun, former police commissioner of Kanpur and now minister of social welfare in the Uttar Pradesh government.

SP’s prospects

Barely 21 days prior to the Bharat Ratna announcement to Chaudhary Charan Singh, Akhilesh Yadav posted a picture on X (formerly called Twitter) with Jayant Chaudhary at his residence saying, “Congratulations to everyone on the RLD-SP alliance. Let’s unite for victory.”

The RLD and SP have been longstanding allies in the past few elections. This departure comes as a substantial blow to the SP as the party lacks its own social base in the region. The SP traditionally performs well in areas with a substantial Muslim and Yadav presence since these communities form their primary support base.

The absence of significant Yadav presence in the west Uttar Pradesh region, however, poses a challenge for the SP. With Jayant’s departure, the party now needs to devise a new social arithmetic or identify a potential game-changer issue to maintain its standing.

Shamshad Khan says, “The problem with the SP is that they were too dependent on Jayant and over the years because of the alliance they didn’t develop their own leaders and cadre in the region.”

Though the SP is confident about countering the BJP-RLD alliance, Atul Pradhan, the party’s MLA from Sardhana, Meerut says, “People in the villages are unhappy about RLD leaving the alliance. Our focus on issues such as protecting the Constitution, speaking out against the harassment of protesting farmers and ensuring MSP is resonating strongly among the masses.”

Atul Pradhan addressing a gathering. Photo: Atul Pradhan/Instagram

Atul Pradhan presents a new electoral strategy, banking on the support from Dalit voters. He says, “A significant shift is expected in west Uttar Pradesh among the Dalit voters. Recent by-polls in Mainpuri, Rampur, and Ghosi saw strong support from the scheduled caste voters for the SP and this trend will continue.”

BSP’s prospects

Mayawati’s BSP, once a formidable force in the western region, has seen a decline in its influence. The factors contributing to BSP’s historical strength in Western Uttar Pradesh included the significant presence of Dalits, particularly Jatavs, a sub-caste to which Mayawati belongs, alongside support from Muslims who viewed the BSP-Jatav combination as a winning formula. Additionally, BSP had an array of influential leaders and a motivated cadre.

However, political commentator Ajmal Rahi, who also runs an organisation for communal harmony in Muzaffarnagar, highlights the BSP’s current situation, “The BSP is almost finished in the region; they lack major issues, their cadres have weakened, and influential leaders have left the party.”

Some BSP leaders see Jayant’s departure from the SP alliance as an opportunity to regain Muslim support by positioning BSP as the main alternative to the BJP. With BSP’s Jatav base remaining strong, the alliance of Jatav and Muslim voters could pose a challenge to the BJP.

Rahi refutes and says, “When alliance of SP and Congress is on one side, there is no chance Muslims will vote for Mayawati. Muslims have stopped trusting Mayawati from past few elections and have understood that BSP has surrendered in front of BJP.”

Aman is an independent journalist.

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