When the head of a political party in India foists his offspring as his chosen successor, others in the party usually shrug and acquiesce.
It was Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Ajit Singh’s plain bad luck that, in the party his father bequeathed to him, many did not.
In his early years, Ajit Singh had little to do with politics.
He graduated from Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur), post-graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology and worked for 17 years as an engineer in the US.
In 1985, when his ailing father Charan Singh — a former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and (briefly) India’s prime minister, then heading a party called the Lok Dal – summoned him back to take charge of the party, Ajit Singh reluctantly obeyed.
He thought party workers would appreciate his sacrifice. He was mistaken.
Most miffed by his arrival was a certain Mulayam Singh Yadav, who regarded himself as Charan Singh’s adopted son.
Once Charan Singh died, it was no holds barred between the two. They spent more time and energy fighting each other than the Congress government that ruled UP then.
Like a radioactive nucleus, the Lok Dal underwent both fission and fusion time and again — splitting into Lok Dal (A) and Lok Dal (B), uniting to form the Janata Dal, splitting again into the Janata Dal (A) and the Samajwadi Janata Party.
Ultimately, while his father had enjoyed the unstinting support of the middle peasantry across Haryana, UP and even Bihar, Ajit’s base was reduced to that of a single caste — the Jats — in the narrow strip of Western UP.
He has made the most of it. He has convinced supporters his party’s currency should have full and floating convertibility — they should vote for whichever party he teams up with.
He has been with the Congress — he once even joined the Congress and was a minister in PV Narasimha Rao’s government — the BJP, the BSP. In the last Lok Sabha poll, he even allied with bete noire Mulayam.
This time Ajit Singh has chosen the BJP as his partner and is likely to contest seven of the 10 seats (of a total of 80 in UP) where he has some influence. (In 2004 he contested all 10 and won three.) “Before every election, every party in UP becomes desperate to have an alliance with us,” said Ram Asrey Verma, UP RLD president. “Our party’s votes have tipped the balance in favour of many a government in UP and at the centre too.”