Ahead of the second phase of polling in Uttar Pradesh, a Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) candidate from Saharanpur district advised voters to not vote for him but for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He joined the BJP two days before the votes were cast. If the RLD’s own disowns the party, what of the voters?
The incident is symbolic of the crisis the party, which has its origin in the Lok Dal founded by Charan Singh, faces. Despite a history of having a solid base among the Jat and the farmer communities, the party has been meandering in the political lanes over the years. It has depended on the largesse of national parties such as the Congress and the BJP to remain relevant. At times it has tied up with regional formations such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. RLD leader Ajit Singh and his son and political heir Jayant Chaudhary have been struggling to retain the party’s vote base in western Uttar Pradesh, where the Jats are largely located. If the RLD fails to do well, and we will know on March 11, then the party can resign itself to a long spell of wilderness in the State. At the Centre, in any case, it’s irrelevant for now.
The RLD had been desperate for an electoral understanding with the Samajwadi Party or the Congress for the ongoing Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh. It had managed to reach some sort of understanding with the Congress, but then the deal fell apart as the Congress began to veer towards the Samajwadi Party. The Samajwadi Party had no problem with the RLD on board but refused to give it seats. It told the Congress that the latter could do so from its quota. The Congress was naturally less than buoyant, given that it itself was struggling to get the number of seats it wanted from the Samajwadi Party. The end result was that the RLD was left high and dry while the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance got stitched.
Left to fend for itself, the RLD is fighting for survival. In the earlier years, it had aligned with the NDA and the Congress at various times. But that was because it had the numbers (even if few) in the Lok Sabha. Today it has none. If it fares badly in the Assembly election too, it will become a paper tiger. Just how insignificant it has become is evident from one recent instance. In a fit of frustration, Jayant Chaudhary had said that Samajwadi Party supremo had tearfully send an SOS to Ajit Singh to help him out by joining hands. The comment did not even draw a response from either the Samajwadi Party or Mulayam Singh Yadav.
It’s not just that nobody wants to deal with the RLD anymore, at least not on its terms. The party is challenged with the rise of the BJP which has over the years gained a grip on the Jat votes in western Uttar Pradesh, and neighbouring Haryana. While it’s true that the BJP too has had to work overtime this time around to win the confidence of the Jats, given the discontentment among the community over the matter of reservations, the party is still in the race for a major slice of the Jat votes. Besides, if the religious factor plays out in the region, with Hindu-Muslim polarisation in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots, the Jat votes could go to the BJP in larger numbers.
The Jats comprise some 17 per cent of the total votes in western Uttar Pradesh. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP had swept the Jat-dominated belt, including in Ajit Singh’s backyard Baghpat. Ajit Singh had lost the election from this constituency, considered the safest for a RLD candidate. The best that the RLD can do is to hope for a split in the Jat votes to keep its prospects alive. Has that split happened (western Uttar Pradesh has already voted)? Given that the Muslims would have voted for any candidate they believed would checkmate the BJP, would the Jats have similarly voted to checkmate the Muslim community’s political game plan despite being upset with the BJP?
In the 20 years of its existence, the RLD has been fleet-footed, changing loyalties depending on the direction the wind was blowing. In 2002, it was in the Government with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party in the State. Two years later, it contested the Uttar Pradesh election in alliance with the Samajwadi Party. Five years down the line, in 2009, it tied up with the BJP for the Lok Sabha election. With the BJP failing to win, Ajit Singh crossed over to the Congress-led UPA in 2011. In 2014, it contested as a partner of the UPA but lost in all the seats. Two years ago, it backed the Bahujan Samaj Party in the State Legislative Council poll.
Can Ajit Singh, the eternal survivor, pull a rabbit out of his hat? His chances rest on just one hope: The BJP must fail in the Jat heartland.
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