Western UP: Jat Anger to wipe out BJP in 50 of the 77 seats going to poll on Saturday

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Western Uttar Pradesh, which votes on Saturday, may well prove to be the BJP's Achilles Heel in the crucial battle to capture the Hindi heartland state. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it had swept this region, riding a communal wave unleashed by Jat-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar the previous year which left 80 dead, scores injured and thousands displaced. Three years later, mounting rural distress, compounded by demonetization woes, has dampened saffron efforts to rekindle communal embers in a desperate bid for a repeat performance in the assembly election.

The slow ebb of the BJP in an area it believed was impregnable is evident even in a whistle-stop trip through the constituencies of the four leading figures of the post-Muzaffarnagar politics of polarization: MLAs Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, and MPs Sanjeev Balyan and Hukum Singh. All four are facing an unforeseen backlash from unhappy voters with a litany of complaints. 

While the anger cuts across caste groups, what should worry the BJP most is the ire of the Jats who scripted the saffron sweep in Western UP by voting lock, stock and barrel for Narendra Modi. Jats are an estimated 17 percent of the population in the region and can swing results in around 50 of the 77 assembly seats where polls will be held on Saturday in the first of UP's seven phases.

"This time 90% of the Jats, particularly in the rural areas, will vote for Ajit Singh's RLD,'' declared a resident of a Jat colony in Muzaffarnagar where Sanjeev Balyan lives. It's a stinging comment on the BJP's fortunes, coming as it does from a person who has been a loyal supporter and worker of the saffron party for many years. He cannot be identified for obvious reasons, but he had an interesting tale to tell. He claims he captured nine booths in the area for the BJP in the 2014 election to help boost its vote tally. "This time,'' he confided, "I'll vote for the BJP, because I have to as a worker. But I am not going to mobilize votes like I did the last time. I just don't feel like putting in the effort. I will go, cast my vote and then come straight home.''

I ask him why he's so angry. He lists three reasons. One, he says, the BJP has been in power at the centre for two and a half years but has done nothing to alleviate the distress of Jat sugarcane farmers. They are owed money by private sugar mills but the centre has not helped them to recover their dues. Secondly, the community is upset over the police firing on Jats by the BJP government in Haryana during last year's reservation agitation. According to him, Jats in UP are waiting to vote against the BJP on February 11, and then will go to Haryana to join their caste brethren who have resumed the reservation agitation. Thirdly, he says, Jats have not forgiven the Modi government for insulting the memory of their biggest leader, former Prime Minister Charan Singh, when it denied Ajit Singh's request to turn his Lutyens' Delhi bungalow into a memorial for his father. 

"They threw Ajit Singh's belongings out on the road and turned him out of the house in which Charan Singh lived for so many years,'' he lamented. Jats, he says, have sworn vengeance.

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