UP polls: BJP tries to woo Jat voters but farm distress remains a hurdle
In western Uttar Pradesh, the SP-RJD alliance is banking on a coalition of Jats and Muslims, to turn the tables on the BJP
Meerut/Muzaffarnagar: Jats were a crucial addition to the BJP's social coalition that propelled it to unprecedented success in the last Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls but as the party gears up for the coming elections, signs of discontent in the agrarian community against it are visible.
Issues like stray cattle menace for farmers and unemployment among the younger population seem to have found traction, even as the BJP government led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath receives praise from a big section of voters on its handling of law and order while welfare measures are also helping the ruling party among the poorest sections of society.
But if the 2017 polls were a no-contest for the BJP in western Uttar Pradesh like most of the state, the Samajwadi Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance here is banking on a coalition of a big section of Jats and Muslims, whose numbers are higher in the region than any other part of UP, besides incremental votes to turn the tables on the ruling party.
In the panchayat office in Khatauli in Muzaffarnagar, two village heads, Raushan Singh Sehrawat of Nona and Ashok Rathi of Dudhaheri, are joined by other Jats in their lament that they are not heard in the local administration while BJP leaders wield influence.
"Both Akhilesh Yadav (SP president) and Jayant Chaudhary (RLD chief) are young, educated and well-meaning. They deserve a chance," Rathi says and cites the menace of stray cattle, who often destroy crops in farms, as big trouble for farmers.
The resentment with the BJP over farm issues spill across the caste divide in some cases. Yogesh Kumar and Rantek Kumar, both farmers from the Gurjar community, lament that urea supply has become low and jobs scarce for their children.
However, not far from the panchayat office is Vedpal Prajapati, a BJP admirer who comes from one of the most impoverished backward communities.
"My family has been getting free ration, or we would have found it difficult to survive. We have also got pension benefits. Five years ago, you could not have thought about venturing out at night, especially women in the family. Things are much better now," Prajapati, a tailor, says.
He says he is all for "Dilli mein Modi, UP mein Yogi", a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi helming the central government and Adityanath heading the state government.
Balvir Singh Saini, an elderly citizen from Bhangela village, says robbery used to be rife on and near highways. "Bade bade lut gaye. Ab aisa nahi hota hai (Even big people got robbed. It does not happen now)," he says, professing his support to the BJP. They have built so many roads and highways, he adds.
In the neighbouring Meerut district, a group of Jat youngsters in Nangla Tashi village are vocal in slamming the BJP. That some of them participated in the year-long farmer protests against three farm laws, now repealed, at the UP-Delhi border has ensured that their strong sentiments run deep. "We are for gathbandhan," Vipul Kumar Johal says, referring to the SP-RLD alliance.
They dismiss the recent overtures by Home Minister Amit Shah to Jats as he held a meeting with its community leaders, claiming no big "khap chaudhary" (clan leader) was present there.
Amid the rumbling of discontent against the BJP and support mostly for the alliance, however, it is also not uncommon to hear voices of support for the ruling party from members of the community.
In village after village, there are those who speak approvingly of the BJP's "rashtrawad" (nationalism) and perceived absence of corruption in central and state governments at higher levels among other issues.
In Meerut, Prashant Chaudhary and his young friends mock another group of young men from the community for their grouse against the BJP. Electricity is much better, and the law and order situation is good so these people are getting bored in the village and have become complaining, he says.
While many pooh-pooh reports that Jats will be wary of voting for Samajwadi Party candidates or Muslims if they are the alliance's nominees, calling it deliberate BJP propaganda, there are some like 23-year-old Akshay Ahlawat who says his vote is only for the hand pump, the RLD symbol.
Incidentally, it is Samajwadi Party's Atul Pradhan who is the alliance's candidate in his constituency of Sardhana, whose incumbent MLA is firebrand BJP leader Sangeet Som.
Polls will be held in 113 seats of the region in the first two phases on 10 and 14 February. The BJP won nearly 89 of these seats in 2017.
The Jat factor will be more at work in the first phase, when 58 seats go to the polls, including in districts with a sizeable population of the community like Mathura, Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat.
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