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The bittersweet truths about UP’s sugar belt

Regardless of the result, Rahul Gandhi, Jayant Chaudhary & Akhilesh Yadav will shape politics of Western UP. Vinod Sharma and Sunita Aron write. The big three set to gain from BSP votebank crack

india Updated: Feb 27, 2012 01:28 IST
Collage-picture-of-Akhilesh-Yadav-and-Rahul-Gandhi
Collage-picture-of-Akhilesh-Yadav-and-Rahul-Gandhi

A new political crop has emerged in the verdant sugarcane belt of western Uttar Pradesh. They’re leaders with a lineage but have a persona of their own.

Regardless of what the electorate will, they’ve come to stay and shape the politics of the region where identity survives but is peppered strongly by aspiration. For the Jats, Jayant Chaudhary is a replica of his grandfather Charan Singh whose writ ran from Haryana to Bihar. The unique social alliance he forged made his aggressive clansmen share political space with backwards and Muslims.

Jayant’s task in these polls is to rebuild the legacy his father Ajit Singh squandered as UP’s foremost turncoat. What adds force to the RLD leader’s pitch is the presence by his side of the Nehru-Gandhi scion, Rahul, whose mission, though larger in its expanse and reach, is no different.

Ask the Jats of Baghpat —the Chaudharys’ citadel for decades — and they’d compare Jayant and Rahul with Bollywood blockbuster Sholay’s celluloid immortals Jai and Veeru. The cinematic imagery was in full swing in Meerut where the election meeting they addressed was the largest in recent memory.

“Todey sey bi tutey gi na in dono ki Jodi (No matter what you do, they will remain inseparable),” said Ram Sewak outside the RLD’s election office in Baraut. Much would depend on the numbers Ajit’s party musters with the Congress. But Jayant is for the Jats the pretender to the CM’s throne.

And what’s Rahul, the man whose hard-work and promises to change the face of UP has infused life in the paralytic Congress? In the Jat and Muslim pockets across Baghpat, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur, he’s increasingly seen as the contender whose time has come, if not now then in the 2014 general elections.

A Muslim opinion leader of Muzaffarnagar, Mufti Zulfikar Ali credited Rahul with making his party occupy the popular mind-space. He said the Congress would reap better results in the Lok Sabha polls: “Unhe Lok Sabha mein iska bahut faida milega.”

But that’s future. How good is the present for Rahul’s Congress? Across the 200-km drive from Baghpat to Saharanpur through bumpy, even non-existent roads, one heard people talk on caste lines. They lambasted Mayawati for her partisan governance, giving Dalits their due as other social groupings waited eternally. It’s time for change for the Muslims who felt betrayed by her step-motherly approach.

Maya’s rainbow coalition has cracked. It remains to be seen to what extent she retains the remnants of her glorious 2007 victory. It’s from the presumed BSP debris that the SP, Congress and the BJP will collect mortar to rebuild their edifices. She’s keeping her core base of the Dalits. The scramble is over the Muslims, the Brahmins, Rajputs and OBCs she mopped up five years ago. Rahul’s contender status finds echo in villages dominated by Muslims and other social groupings. “The Congress is in contest at most places,” felt Hafiz Mohammad Aftab of the All India Muttahida Mahaz. “But its challenge is hamstrung by Rahul not being projected as CM. An upfront claim to power by Rahul would’ve made others look like pygmies….”

Yet, the Congress seems to have developed equity in Muslim votes together with Mulayam’s SP, where too a generational change has happened. Like Jayant, his son Akhilesh Yadav is potential UP CM --- an inheritor, in fact, in contrast to Jayant the pretender and Rahul the contender.

This emerging big picture could have its genesis in a host of local factors that’ll influence or determine the outcome in the Jat-Muslim belt. For instance, the Congress’s chances might be ruined in Saharanpur by its decision to outsource seven assembly tickets to former Union minister Rasheed Masood.

A recent entrant to the Congress, Masood is the target of pent-up opprobrium for running the Muslim area as a family fiefdom minus the city where the BJP has good presence like in other urban pockets. Comparisons are made with Barabanki’s Beni Prasad Verma whose Congress franchise is similarly troubled in east UP.

Estimates of the SP’s and Congress-RLD’s share of Muslim votes range from 60:40 to 70:30 across the sugarcane belt. Not entirely happy with Ajit, the Jats are still rock-solid with the RLD in the hope of making Jayant the CM as part of post-poll bargaining with Mulayam if the assembly is hung.

“We’ll not accept Mulayam as CM,” declared RLD supporters in Baghpat.

The roles get reversed as one enters Deoband, home to the much-revered Muslim seminary Darul Uloom and hub of Muslim politics. Here and in other minority fortresses, Ajit’s political vagrancy evokes derision. “He’s a star who has paired with many,” chuckled a young Muslim.

The SP’s Muslim clout is growing with the media showing it ahead in earlier phases of the poll. Outside the Deoband seminary, an attar vendor’s remarks bore fragrant support for Mulayam. A happy sign it was for the Yadav whom the Muslims deserted in 2009 for entering a pact with Kalyan Singh of the Babri fame. The big three set to gain from BSP votebank crack

So where does it leave the Congress? The party’s on the Muslim mind but a trifle removed from their hearts. Many believe Rahul would’ve reaped a bumper crop had he courted Muslims the way he tried winning over the Dalits.

“He would have led us by our nose if he had come to our homes to break bread with us,” said Muzaffarnagar’s Zulfikar Ali, others in the crowd nodding in approval. A lesson here perhaps for the young Gandhi!