Farmers' leader Rakesh Tikait (File Photo, Image credit: The Indian Express)

Parties try to reap political harvest in UP, Haryana

As the Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal and Indian National Lok Dal were once used to be strong in those districts of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana which are in the vicinity of Delhi the farmers’ agitation has provided them an opportunity to revive their prospect. Whether they would succeed or not is a different matter but they have certainly become active.

Last month the lone MLA of INLD in Haryana, Abhay Chautala, resigned from his seat in a bid to revive his party’s fortune. He is the son of former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, now serving jail term, grandson of former deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal and uncle of the present deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala.

As INLD used to represent Jats of Haryana, in the farmers’ agitation Abhay is trying his level best to stage a comeback and corner his nephew and the leader of Jannayak Janata Party. Since Jats are essentially a farming community spread in west UP, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan and Punjab they are upset after the passage of three farm laws in the Monsoon Session of Parliament in September last.

Post-Muzaffarnagar riots

However, ever since the Muzaffarnagar communal riots of September 2013 the Jat voters started looking towards the BJP. This led to the marginalization of the two important outfits INLD and Ajit Singh’s RLD. Ajit Singh, who had served as Union minister both in the NDA and UPA, is the son of former Prime Minister Charan Singh and father of former MP, Jayant Singh.

Though the BJP got a lot of Jat votes in 2014 Lok Sabha as well as Assembly election of Haryana yet the saffron party experimented with a non-Jat alliance. This resulted in Manohar Lal Khattar becoming the chief minister. This is for the first time that a non-Jat became the chief minister of the state after a long time.

However, it was in west Uttar Pradesh that the BJP managed to exploit the contradictions. As west UP has substantial Jat, Jatav (also known as Ravidas) and Muslim population, and Yadavs are numerically not very strong the BJP was bound to consolidate its position as the regional parties could not come together.

The 2013 riots helped the BJP attract the Jat votes. The lack of unity in the rival camp made it so easy that the BJP romped home winning 71 Lok Sabha seats—besides two others were bagged by its alliance partner Apna Dal. The Congress could win only two and the Samajwadi Party the rest five seats. The BSP drew blank. The 2017 Assembly election helped the saffron camp further polarise the society. The BJP-led alliance managed to win 324 seats in the House of 403. The big BJP victory is largely attributed to the infighting in the family of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the father of Akhilesh Yadav.

SP-BSP-RLD alliance

The regional players in UP, Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party, Mayawati of BSP and Ajit Singh of RLD woke up too late to form an alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. But by then the saffron party had become too strong. The BSP contested 38, SP 37 and RLD three seats. Though there was no such alliance with the Congress the trio left two seats, Rai Bareli and Amethi, for Sonia and Rahul Gandhi respectively.

Yet the strong alliance failed to damage the BJP much which registered victory in 64 seats, to be followed by 10 by BSP and five by the SP. The RLD failed to open its account largely because the Jats were still with the BJP. The Tikait brothers—Naresh and Rakesh–too did not back RLD. While Sonia could retain Rae Bareli, Rahul lost in Amethi.

However, when the farmers of Punjab launched the movement in the last week of September none of these regional outfits deemed it fit to come out openly. But when the scene shifted to the borders of Delhi on November 26 parties like RLD, INLD and SP took notice but the BSP largely remained indifferent. In fact, it was soft towards the BJP as the SP had allured about a dozen out of 18 BSP MLAs only a few days before November 26.

On the other hand, the SP and RLD started backing the farmers’ demands. The ugly incident on January 26 rendered many opponents of the BJP speechless.

The scenario changed after January 28 development involving Rakesh Tikait. The sudden upsurge in the farmers’ support forced the regional players to change their strategy. The RLD and SP tried to capitalize as the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election is only a year away.

The BSP was till now keeping itself largely aloof as its main vote-bank, the Jatavs, are mostly landless. Besides, the Jat-Jatav relationship was never cordial. Mayawati, who has lost several electoral battles since 2012, thought that it may prove counter-productive if she does not abandon her indifference towards farmers’ movement.

On his part Naresh Tikait, at a Mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar, apologised for the 2013 communal riots and for not siding with Ajit Singh. Analysts are of the view that the end of seven-year long hostility between Jats and Muslims may change the political equation in west UP. It is to be seen whether the farmers’ movement would work as an oxygen for the regional parties of UP and Haryana. They are also carefully watching the strategy of Congress which is seeking to revive itself in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna.

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