Union minister Ajit Singh’s father, the late Chaudhary Charan Singh’s USP was the socio-economic alliance he forged between the Jats, the Backwards and the Muslims. Neither his son nor his protégé, the SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, could retain the formidable combination that made the Chaudhary the tallest leader after Indira Gandhi in the Hindi heartland states of Haryana, UP and Bihar.
Even as Mulayam took away the Backwards, notably his Yadav clansmen, the Jats of Western UP stood by Ajit, vastly downsizing his appeal in comparison with his father who, despite his boringly languid oratory, flaunted a pro-village economic vision that had in thrall farmers from across an eclectic social mix. Even Haryana’s burly Jat chieftain, the late Devi Lal looked tiny before the tenacious Chaudhary.
The communal flare-up in western UP has to be deciphered against this backdrop. For value-addition to their captive Jat and Yadav votes respectively, Ajit and Mulayam have always needed Muslim support. If the Jats let their caste identity subsume into religion, the Chaudhary’s son will be the biggest loser. His political fate hinges on western UP’s Jat belt now reeling under communal violence.
“The Jats have turned Hindus,” declared the BJP’s national vice president, Satpal Malik. What enraged the community was the administration’s “partisan and insensitive” approach to retaliatory killings of two boys after a Muslim youth was slain for eve-teasing.
As the SP, BSP and the Congress have never been the preferred parties of the Jats, the BJP stands to gain from the obtaining polarisation. The first time the saffron/BJP flags fluttered atop tractors in UP was at the height of the Ram Temple movement of the nineties. The trend lasted a decade, the BJP growing strong enough to take shots at power in Delhi in 1996, 1998 and 1999. In 1998 it had four Jat MPs from western UP, including Sompal, who trounced Ajit in his father’s citadel of Baghpat.
If it stays put on the secular side of the divide, Mayawati’s BSP could be a bulwark against complete polarisation in western UP. Its unwavering Dalit base and Muslim allegiance in the region would make it a potent challenger in the event of the BJP sustaining its Jat-connect till 2014. A possible seat-sharing pact with the Congress might enhance her appeal. Having kept gangsters and agent provocateurs on a tight leash when in power with a brute majority in UP from 2007-12, she’s widely regarded as the toughest administrator the State has seen in recent years.
From a distance, the UP scenario appears a replay of the 1990s when Mulayam (as CM from 1989-91 and 1993-95) sought to counter majority communalism with secular fundamentalism. A pointer to it is the administration’s less than agile reaction to communal conflagration in Muzaffarnagar in contrast with the alacrity with which it cracked down on the VHP’s brazenly expedient chaurasi kausi yatra to reignite the Temple sentiment.
Mulayam’s stakes in western UP are relatively marginal for want of adequate Yadav component in his Pan-UP Muslim-Yadav base. But he better beware! The BJP’s campaign against Muslim appeasement could have repercussions across UP.