In this Jat-dominated constituency, the divide is clear. The older generation still reveres Chaudhury Charan Singh, and is prepared to vote blindly for his son, Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, 70, who is contesting the seat once more. To the young, Charan Singh is not even a memory. They are full of complaints against Ajit Singh.
Baghpat lies in Delhi’s backyard, barely 40 km east. “But there are hardly any developmental activities or industries here,” said Harpal Singh, 24, of Malakpur village.
The land is fertile and well-irrigated, yielding bumper crops of wheat and sugarcane, but that does not fulfill the rising aspirations of Baghpat’s youth.
“Land holdings are getting smaller and smaller due to fragmentation,” said Devendra Kumar Arya, Independent candidate. “If there are three or four brothers, and all have their own families, they cannot all live off the land.”
Charan Singh, fomer prime minister, the architect of land reforms in Uttar Pradesh, contested and won the Baghpat seat three times from 1977. Taking over from his father, Ajit Singh has won the same seat five times, and lost it once.
There is a second problem too this time — Ajit Singh’s tie up with the BJP. How have the 3.5 lakh Muslim voters of Baghpat taken it? The RLD’s MLA from Baghpat, himself a Muslim, Kokab Hamid, is reluctant to discuss the matter. “We are trying to explain that it was an electoral compulsion,” a close aide of Hamid said.
Thus Ajit’s two main opponents, Sompal Shastri of the Congress and Mukesh Pandit of the Bahujan Samaj Party are both hopeful.
Shastri was the man — then contesting on a BJP ticket — who defeated Ajit in the 1998 poll, the only time Ajit met this fate. (Ajit, however, avenged the setback by comprehensively beating Shastri in the 1999 election.)
About Pandit, BSP workers admit he is a local strongman, and insist such a candidate was necessary to give Baghpat’s Dalits the courage to come out and vote against the Jat backed Ajit Singh.