As one enters the Pinna village, a few kilometres from Muzaffarnagar town, there is a line of concrete, tall and impressive looking houses. One of them belongs to the family of Sukhbir Singh, a lawyer.
Sitting around in front of the house, Singh’s nephew, Subodh Kumar, who works in a private firm in Ludhiana, said the Pinna village had 7,200 voters, of whom 2,200 are Jats.
There are 700 Muslims, roughly the same number as the Dalits, and others. Singh added proudly: “But 99% of the land here belongs to the Jats. The rest live in 1% of the land.”
Singh’s family of 120 members has decided to support BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi. For, they believe only he can “control the Muslims”. Kumar chipped in: “Even half the Dalits in this village will vote for Modi, you just see.”
Just then, as a short, lean man walks past, Kumar calls out to him, saying, “He is Chander Pal, a Dalit. You can ask him directly.” When asked about his political preferences, Pal said, “I voted for Behenji (BSP chief Mayawati) last time, but this time, it will be Modi.”
Kumar intervened: “Look, the Jats and Dalits need each other. And we need them to work on our fields. They depend on us for their livelihoods. So, we can influence them.”
Chander Pal nodded, but added quickly that he would continue to vote for the BSP in the assembly. Kumar took over again, telling Pal: “You support Modi this time, and we’ll join you and support the BSP in 2017.”
Despite voting being a private act, the conversation among a small group of men illustrated the possible impact of dense personal and social networks on the ground on political choices.
How Chander Pal and his brethren will vote is a matter of conjecture, but the dominant caste — the Jats, in this case — is seeking to influence voters’ behaviour.
Kumar’s cousin, Himanshu, has a business partnership with Kaalu Khan, a Muslim neighbour, who later joined the discussions. Knowing that the others were Modi-supporters, he said laughingly: “We don’t like him. Muslim votes will go to the BSP.” But then he said, after a pause, that they might not vote this time.
Why? Subodh Kumar explained: “Muslims know we want Modi, and we know they don’t want him. When they vote for someone else, there are chances of clashes. So, they may not turn out on the voting day.” Khan nodded: “Yes, there are fears after the riots.”
It is the interplay of Kumar, Chander Pal, and Khan – a Jat, a Dalit, and a Muslim – that will finally shape politics in western UP in the summer of 2014.