Rashtriya Lokdal chief Ajit Singh's son and party candidate from Matt assembly seat Jayant Chaudhary during election campaign in Mathura. PTI Photo
Jats love telling an obviously made-up story every election to whoever cares to listen. It’s about Charan Singh appearing in their dreams on the night before the polling day and seeking their votes for his son Ajit Singh.
Until the arrival of the third generation Chaudhary, Jayant, on the scene, the RLD’s captive voters were a trifle weary of Ajit’s political dalliances that earned him the sobriquet of a bhagora (party-hopper). Jocularly though, they’d talk of staying awake to bypass Charan Singh’s poll-eve diktat.
This time around the Jats could sleep blissfully. For the polling day presented to them no such dilemma. In Jayant, they’ve found a leader who looks like his grandpa, at times talks the way he did and has the potential of becoming his party’s modern face.
The rough-and-ready Jats are all sugar and honey when they talk of the Texas-born graduate from London School of Economics. “He reminds us of Chaudhary saab. He’s sincere and straight,” said a supporter.
Jayant himself prefers to flaunt his grandfather’s legacy, inherited, besides his father, by two formidable rivals — Devi Lal in Haryana and Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP. The three-way division was as much a comment on Ajit’s leadership acumen as on Charan Singh’s unique social base of Jats, backwards
and Muslims. The elder Chaudhary’s writ ran from Haryana to Bihar across UP.
“I’ve grown reading books authored by my grandfather,” said Jayant at the HT conclave in Lucknow last year. His political idol was his grandfather whose speeches were a study in statistics that brought out the urban bias at the expense of planning and allocation of funds for the countryside.
The craze for Jayant is palpable in Jat citadels. It’s a measure of the changing times that he’s seeking and getting popular support in partnership with the Congress. His grandfather fought the Gandhi-Nehru party most of his life, even sending Indira Gandhi to jail as home minister of the Janata Party regime.
Ask elderly Jats about Jayant’s companionship of Rahul Gandhi and they’d attribute it to the demands of 21st century India: zamana badal gaya hai (Times have changed).
They aren’t averse anymore to voting for the Congress if it helped the RLD.
Advocate Somendra Dhaka of Baghpat says, “The mood in west UP changed after Jayant arrived on the scene. People are hoping he will fight for farmers the way his grandfather did.”
The expectation obviously is to regain Charan Singh’s social base on a pro-farmer plank. But it’ll be easier said than done. A generational shift has happened in the SP as well with the advent of Mulayam’s son Akhilesh.
Dhaka finds Jayant on the right path. He brought a private member’s bill on land acquisition, is vocal on farmers’ issues and is trying to establish RLD where it had roots but was knocked out of public consciousness after Charan Singh died. Example: The decision to contest for the assembly from his Lok Sabha seat of Mathura.
Charan Singh became PM in 1979 with Congress support that proved short-lived. He had to demit office before facing Parliament. Can history repeat itself or the alliance partners of 2012 will hang out together even after the UP polls?
Be that as it may, Jayant needs to pick up the restraining influence his grandfather exercised over the temperamentally combative Jats. At Mant from where he’s in the fray, his clansmen’s aggression bordering on intimidation antagonised other social groups.
The crowds at an RLD rally Jayant addressed in Mant were rowdy. That was in sharp contrast to Charan Singh’s meetings where his supporters heard in rapt attention his long, meandering speeches devoid of oratorical flourish.
His politics wasn’t about charisma. It was about care and concern for the peasant class.