RLD faces uphill task in western UP

Communal riots hit Ajit Singh's vote bank

RLD faces uphill task in western UP

Though situated barely 60 km from Muzaffarnagar, which saw large-scale communal violence a few months ago, Baghpat, widely known as ‘Jat land’, was not directly affected by the riots. However, the violence disrupted ageold Jat-Muslim relations and has made established ‘poll equations’ go awry.

The ‘Jat land’ seems to be undergoing a churning of sorts this time and, for the first time, developmental issues appear to be overshadowing caste equations, sending ominous signals to Union minister Ajit Singh, who has won from here six times and is seeking re-election.

The loosening of the Jat-Muslim bonding, which had ensured smooth sailing for Ajit Singh on numerous occasions, could ground the union civil aviation minister this time. However, his father, Chaudhary Charan Singh, still commands tremendous respect and affection across caste lines.

Jats, who form around 30 per cent of the electorate here, seemed to be sore with Ajit Singh for not doing ‘anything’ for the constituency for all these years. They are also upset with his Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)  party for failing to support them after the ‘Kaval’ episode in Muzaffarnagar, where communal violence had broken out after two Jat youths were killed following an altercation over the molestation of a Jat girl. 

“Where was Ajit Singh when the state government was persecuting our community members in Muzaffarnagar after the riots? No RLD leader came to their rescue then,” says Ummed Singh, of the Jat community.

The BJP, whose leaders had visited the Jat-dominated villages and extended them support after the riots, seems to have successfully made a dent in the RLD's traditional vote bank. “BJP stands to gain here....many Jats, especially the youths, have shown their inclination for the saffron party,” says local scribe Gurubachan Singh, also a Jat.

Another issue that is likely to cause problems for Ajit Singh is development. Though Baghpat is barely 40 km from Delhi, it still lacks even basic amenities like roads, power, drinking water and health facilities. In swathes of Baghpat, there are no roads.

The handloom industry in Khekda has been ruined due to lack of support from the government, say locals. “Nothing has changed here during the past so many years,” says Ravinder Kumar. Older voters may vote with their caste in mind. But young voters want change, and might not vote along caste lines. A large number of Jat youths attended a recent rally of the BJP’s Narendra Modi. Modi, a PM aspirant, had attacked Ajit Singh for joining hands with the Congress, which his father Charan Singh had always opposed. 

Satyapal Singh, the BJP’s nominee for Baghpat, and a former Mumbai police commissioner, is banking heavily on ‘Modi magic’.

Samajwadi Party (SP) has further queered Ajit Singh's pitch by fielding a Muslim candidate. SP nominee Ghulam Mohammed is banking heavily on Muslims, who form 18 per cent of the electorate here.

BSP, which finished second in the 2009 polls, with around 29 per cent votes, has fielded Prashant Chaudhary this time. Chaudhary is likely to get a majority of the Dalit votes though they may not be enough to ensure him a win.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has nominated Jogendra Dhaka from the seat. Dhaka is banking on Arvind Kejriwal's popularity with the young voters.

In 2009, Ajit Singh defeated Mukesh Sharma of BSP by over 62,000 votes. This time the contest appears to be between Ajit Singh and Satyapal Singh. The constituency goes to polls on April 10.

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