BJP uneasy as Congress smells opening in UP’s ‘Jatland’

BJP uneasy as Congress smells opening in UP’s ‘Jatland’

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Credit: PTI Photo

As the ongoing agitation of farmers in protest against the new farm laws nears 100 days, there are indications of political churning in the ‘Jatland’ (Jat dominated districts) in western Uttar Pradesh prompting the Congress and some other regional outfits to nurture hopes of regaining a foothold in the region and dent the BJP support base.

Congress, which has been reduced to a fringe player in state politics, has been going all out to capitalise on the farmers’ anger in the hope of reaping rich electoral dividends in the next assembly election in the state, which are due in less than a year’s time.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is also the party in-charge of the state, has been hopping from one district to another and addressing ‘kisan mahapanchayats’ in the region assuring the farmers of her party’s full support to their agitation.

Priyanka has already addressed half a dozen ‘kisan mahapanchayats’ in Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur, Bijnore and some other districts in the past few days. She has also been meeting the farmer leaders in an attempt to garner their support ahead of the next assembly poll.

The Congress, which could win only one seat - that of Raebareli in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and only seven seats in the 2017 assembly poll - has planned to hold a series of ‘kisan mahapanchayats’ in the ‘Jat’ dominated districts in the days to come. "We are getting good response from the farmers,’’ said a UP Congress leader here pointing to the crowds at the meetings addressed by Priyanka.

The leader said that the Congress would be holding meetings of the farmers in 27 districts of western UP in the next few months as part of its ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ campaign.

According to the Congress leaders the party is working to bring the ‘Jats’ and Muslims together once again. The two communities, which together form around 35% of the electorate in the 19 western UP districts, can upset the electoral applecart of any party in the region. In some districts like Mathura and Baghpat, the ‘Jats’ form 30 to 40% of the electorate.

The presence of senior Congress leader Imran Masood and former party MLA Harendra Malik, a ‘Jat’, at Priyanka’s meeting in Muzaffarnagar was a pointer in this direction. "We can defeat the BJP if we are able to get the support of these two communities,’’ Malik said.

In the past, the two communities used to be the vote bank of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) but the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar in which 60 people were killed and thousands others, mainly Muslims, displaced, divided them to the benefit of the BJP. The division pushed the RLD on the brink of political extinction in the state.

Sensing an opportunity, the RLD leaders, including its vice-president Jayant Chaudhary, son of former union minister Ajit Singh, have also been rallying the farmers of the region against the farm laws and attending the farmers' 'mahapanchayats' in different districts. The RLD top leadership has directed the party workers to fan out in the villages, especially those dominated by the 'Jats' and solicit their support for the ongoing protests against the farm laws.

BJP, on the other, finds itself on the backfoot in the region, which it had swept in 2019 LS polls and also in 2017 assembly election riding on the ‘Jat-Muslim’ divide.

The saffron party leaders had to face the wrath of the farmers, especially those from the ‘Jat’ community, when they visited some of the villages to meet the ‘khap chaudharies’ (panchayat chiefs).

‘’We will allow them to enter our villages only after they resign from their party,’’ said Sachin Jawala, a ‘khap chaudhary’ in Shamli district, about 500 kilometres from Lucknow. Jawala’s remarks came after Union Minister Sanjiv Baliyan went to meet the farmers at Bhaiswal village in the district. The angry farmers not only raised slogans against the saffron party but also blocked their way by parking their tractors on the road.

No MSP hike

Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) president Naresh Tikait urged the farmers to ask the BJP leaders why there had been no increase in the MSP (minimum support price) of sugarcane in the past few years. The farmers have also called for ‘’social boycott’’ of the BJP leaders. Naresh Tikait also asked the farmers not to ‘invite’ the BJP workers and leaders at social functions.

What appeared to have queered the pitch for the BJP were the remarks by Naresh Tikait that the 'Jats' had committed a blunder by shifting their allegiance to BJP. ''Ajit Singh ko hara kar hamne bahut bari bhool ki,'' (it was a great mistake on our part to defeat Ajit Singh), Tikait had said at one of the mahapanchayats of the farmers in Muzaffarnagar town a few days back.

Guru Bachan Singh, a Baghpat based scribe, who hails from the ‘Jat’ community, said that both the Congress and the RLD were vying for the votes of the community. ‘’At the moment, Jats are very angry with the BJP….the remarks by BJP lawmaker Nand Kishore Gujjar have only fuelled this anger,’’ Singh told DH. Gujjar had allegedly threatened the agitating farmers.

"Who gets the support of the community will depend on many factors….which party takes the lead in supporting them will be the key,’’ he remarked.

BJP leaders, however, sought to keep a brave face and claimed that the saffron party would be able to ‘convince’ the farmers about the benefits of the new farm laws. ‘’We have been trying to reach out to the farmers to allay their fears and misgivings…we will succeed,’’ said BJP legislator from Meerut, Suresh Rana.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox