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View | Uttar Pradesh Assembly election: Contested narratives on Jat factor ahead of first phase polls

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View | Uttar Pradesh Assembly election: Contested narratives on Jat factor ahead of first phase polls

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the Jat farmer respondents under the Budhana assembly constituency pointed to the delay in the payment by the local Bhasana Sugar Mill owned by the Bajaj group. The anti-BJP respondents added another dimension to this narrative by arguing that the incumbent government hasn’t increased the price on sugarcane as desired.

View | Uttar Pradesh Assembly election: Contested narratives on Jat factor ahead of first phase polls
“The election is being fought on the twin issue of Ganna and Jinnah”, opined Naresh Baliyan in the village Sisauli at Muzaffarnagar district. Ganna pertains to the material issues privileged by the anti-BJP and Lok Dal minded Jats while the issue of Jinnah signifies the emerging anxiety among the BJP minded counterparts in the wake of Muslim consolidation.
However, this posing of the material vs. cultural issues appears more tactical and layered as the narrative proceeds.
In the backdrop of farmers’ protests, anti-BJP respondents seem to readily invoke the legal mandates to underscore the lack of material improvement of the sugarcane farmers. The reference to the 1968 Essential Commodities Act pertaining to the payment of Sugarcane which mandates that the farmers need to be paid within 14 days from the date of delivery of the sugarcane to the seller is quite common.
For instance, the Jat farmer respondents under the Budhana assembly constituency pointed to the delay in the payment by the local Bhasana Sugar Mill owned by the Bajaj group. However, the assertion was countered immediately by another set of farmers who pointed out that only Bajaj group owned mills are delaying the payments. In fact, out of 8 sugarcane mills in the Muzaffarnagar districts, payments are being done in time by the 7 mills, a fact accepted by everyone.
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Further, the anti-BJP respondents added another dimension to this narrative by arguing that the incumbent government hasn’t increased the price on sugarcane as desired. In the last five years, the price increase has been twice, Rs 10 earlier and Rs 25 per quintal last year. This point was immediately neutralized by the pro-BJP respondents by referring to Mayavati and the BSP not getting Jat votes despite implementing a steep hike of Rs.40 per quintal in sugarcane price in 2011.
Interestingly, the narrative by the pro-BJP Jats veered around the issue of timely payment by the sugarcane along with better condition of Law and Order. The comparison was always to the Akhilesh led Samajwadi government wherein the instances of theft of tube well, boring and snatching when the farmers used to visit their farm in the night, were invoked frequently. To the supplementary question as to who these rogue elements were, the reference again was to the other religious communities whose consolidation behind the SP-RLD alliance was shown as a worrying factor.
Expectedly, the pro-RLD Jats dismissed these assertions by arguing that they had always been doing their farming peacefully and Jats being a dominant community didn’t need to fear anyone. Further, they criticized the state cane development Minister Suresh Rana, an upper-caste Thakur and MLA from Thana Bhavan assembly constituency in Shamli district, for not only ignoring the farmers but also for being more responsive to non-Jat electorates. On this plank, even the pro-BJP Jats appeared defensive as the reference come about Rana trying to circumvent the rise of maverick BJP Jat leader and Union minister Sanjeev Baliyan.
Thus, beneath the apparent material plank, the communitarian dimension lurks intensely. These contested narratives also reveal the churning within the community wherein the quest for an authentic Jat identity is at the stake. In these tussles, the political, economic and cultural factors are selectively invoked depending upon the electoral choices made apriority. The attempt is not only to claim oneself as an authentic legacy holder of the Jat identity but also to paint the rivals as spurious ones.
Pertaining to this quest for authentic identity, in the village Bhainsi in Khatauli assembly constituency in Muzaffarnagar, an animated conversation among the Jats on the ensuing election quickly morphed into the blame game for the alleged degradation of the peasant identity among the Jat youths. On this plank, a pro-BJP Jat blamed Punjabi influence for the cultural decline of the community. “The Punjabi songs with their vulgarity, show off and usage of liquor and drugs are spoiling our youths. We have been Arya-Samaji and pursued a simple lifestyle. However, the toxic wind that is blowing from Punjab is coming to us via Haryana.”
The reference, to Punjabi songs, quickly turned into an anti-Sikh trope and the alleged Khalistan angle in the recent farmers’ protest were invoked. The anti-Jat respondents took strong exception and accused the BJP minded Jats of being nakli Jats for disrespecting the farmers' movement and ignoring the agrarian issues. In the same thread when the issue of union Home Minister Amit Shah’s recent meeting with Jats propped up, the RLD supporters quipped that they were Sanghis rather than Jats.
The angry BJP supporters castigated their rivals for forgetting the 2013 riots and the role of the Akhilesh government therein. The retort came immediately when some of the RLD supporters pointed out that how the fathers of Gaurav and Sachin, the two Jat youths killed in 2013 riots at Kanwal village which triggered the communal riots, were to be convicted by the court and the incumbent Yogi government hadn’t done anything to save them. Not to be left behind, a pro-BJP youth studying law responded that the RLD supporters were buffoons who didn’t understand the intricacies of the law.
He asserted that under CRPC 321, the state government tried to withdraw the cases against the accused, but as per law, the High Court has the prerogative to accept or dismiss the government’s move. In the case of most of the accused belonging to the Jat community, the High Court refused to accept the government’s request for withdrawal of the cases.
This complex interplay of the electoral, political, economic and social with the sprinkling of legal paradigm signify the internal tussle and the emergence of tenuous identity among the Jats in western Uttar Pradesh whose political division transcends into cultural and economic realms too. As the electoral narrative is too much focused on them, many non-Jat respondents aren’t amused by this exclusivity assigned to the Jats. A Tyagi respondent remarked the biggest fallacy of the journalist, politicians and others happen to call western UP as Jatland when their numerical presence is less than 15 percent. This is nothing but a bargaining tool by the community members on the eve of elections.
—Sajjan Kumar is a Political Analyst based in Delhi. Views expressed are personal
Note: This is the second article of the two-part series. To read the first article, click here
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