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    View | Assembly elections 2022: The ticklish Jat factor in Western Uttar Pradesh

    View | Assembly elections 2022: The ticklish Jat factor in Western Uttar Pradesh

    View | Assembly elections 2022: The ticklish Jat factor in Western Uttar Pradesh
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    By Sajjan Kumar   IST (Updated)

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    Uttar Pradesh assembly elections: The Muslim demography is high in the sugarcane belt and dips significantly in the Braj region. Thus, a split among the Jat votes and the consequent shift away from the BJP to the SP-RLD alliance have a bearing on the fortune of the incumbent and the claimants.

    As Uttar Pradesh is going to vote in the first phase of assembly elections on 10th February across 11 districts and 58 seats, two issues come to the fore: the non-division of the Muslim votes and the division among the Jats. While the Muslim electorates here show the emerging national trend of consolidating behind a single party across the state irrespective of the candidate factor, as happened in Bihar, Assam and West Bengal recently, it is the local dynamics among the Jats, constituting around 14 percent of the population in western UP, which keeps the fortune of BJP and SP-RLD candidates hanging by a thread, particularly in Sugarcane belt (Meerut, Baghpat, Shamli and Muzaffarnagar districts).
    In the backdrop of Farmers’ protest which had a community-specific dimension, it is also the different political economy of two sub-regions of western Uttar Pradesh along with the Muslim demography which privileges the Jats in Meerut, Baghpat, Shamli and Muzaffarnagar region, but takes away their centrality in the Braj region. The latter is comprised of districts like Bulandsahar, Aligarh, Mathura and Agra among the others going to the polls on 10th February. While the former is a sugarcane zone, the latter, i.e., the Braj region is primarily a potato belt.
    Unlike the sugarcane, which cannot be preserved by the farmers, thereby necessitating a culture of protest for the immediate fixation of the price by the state government, a significant section of the potato farmers in the Braj region stores their produce in the cold storage in the harvest month of January-February, when the prices are low due to the problem of the plenty and wait for a couple of months to sell the produce, preferably in April and May, when the prices are high. This explains the reason for the sugarcane belt in western UP being the epicenter of farmers’ protest, which since the late 1980s has been led by the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and the relative lack of the it in the Braj region despite the systematic presence of BKU’s district and Mandal units.
    Further, the Muslim demography is high in the sugarcane belt and dips significantly in the Braj region. Thus, a split among the Jat votes and the consequent shift away from the BJP to the SP-RLD alliance have a bearing on the fortune of the incumbent and the claimants. This social equation becomes all the more important in the backdrop of the fact that despite all the speculations and a sense of unease among the Dalit intellectuals and activists with Mayawati’s leadership, the numerically significant Dalits, the Jatav-Chamars, are still consolidated behind the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
    However, like ever non-Dalit section, the BSP is not resonating with the Muslim electorates despite fielding a maximum number of candidates from the minority community. This has colossally reduced the impact of the numerically significant Jatav-Chamar Dalits in the ensuing election as they have acquired a policy of equidistance from the BJP and the SP. Further, in the sugarcane belt, the majority of the non-Jat OBCs, Valmiki and Khatik Dalits and the upper castes are still with the BJP, leaving the Jat-Muslim dynamics as the prime determinant in this subregion.
    A field study in the sub-region revealed the split among the Jat electorates along three lines: generational, Khap based and locality. The protracted farmers’ protest has certainly rekindled the prospect of the RLD and saved the party from electoral irrelevance as a significant section of the elder Jats, reminiscent of the old domineering days of Charan Singh and Jat dominance, aim to revive the RLD under the leadership of Jayant Chaudhary. However, their choice for RLD, in a majority of the cases doesn’t translate seamlessly into a desire to see a Samajwadi Party-led government with Akhilesh Yadav as Chief Minister. In fact, the dislike for the Akhilesh is as prominent among the RLD minded Jats as among the BJP inclined counterparts. Rather, the prime incentive happens to be the perception that under BJP, the Jats are losing their erstwhile prominence in the sub-region vis-à-vis the non-Jat Hindus.
    A revival of the RLD is seen as the most desirable way to ensure that the BJP take the community more seriously and avoid their relative political marginalisation akin to Haryana. The sentiment is summarised in the response of a RLD minded Jat elder, Sripal Malik, owner of a private school, Shiv Shishu Niketan at Fugana village which was one of the epicentres of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. Our desire is to ensure that RLD wins 10-15 seats and Yogi becomes the Chief Minister. SP may go down the drains.
    We are aligning with the Muslims as we have traditional proximity with them, and no other community except the Muslims votes for the Jat candidate. Jats are not in the heart of the BJP, he added. While other elder Jat respondents echoed the sentiment, some of the younger respondents including his nephew disagreed and asked the elders to pinpoint drawbacks of the BJP government and claimed that the law and order issue is the prime plank in favour of the BJP. They also asserted the absence of the RLD leadership, including that of Ajit Singh during the wake of Muzaffarnagar riots when the then incumbent SP government led by Akhilesh Yadav was perceived to act in an anti-Jat and partisan manner.
    Similarly, the issue of Khap is also emerging as a subtext behind the contested electoral narrative among the community members, particularly among the Malik and Baliyan Khaps. This Khap-based subclan factor has its interface with the farmers’ protest. For instance, in Rakesh Tikait’s village Sisauli falling under Budhana assembly constituency, when the sitting BJP MLA Umesh Malik made a visit in the wake of farmers’ protest last year, stones were hurled at his car by the protestors belonging to BKU and Baliyan Khap.
    Rakesh Tikait’s son Charan Singh was also among the protesters. This personal attack hasn’t gone down well with a section of the Jats belonging to the Malik Khaps. Incidentally, the RLD candidate against incumbent Umesh Malik happen to be Rajpal Singh Baliyan, thereby bringing into the equation the Malik vs Baliyan dynamics among the Jats. However, there is no clear line and in most of the cases, the reason for the respective choices is not only incoherent but also contradictory.
    —Sajjan Kumar is a Political Analyst based in Delhi. Views expressed are personal
    Note: This is the first article of the two-part series. To read the second article, click here.
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