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Western UP: In the Jat heartland, religion trumps farming concerns

Ajit Singh is easily the most powerful and popular among all Jat leaders to have emerged from western UP in the last 20 years. Hailing from Baghpat, a UP district bordering on the National Capital Region, he enjoys unconditional support from a large number of farmers in this part of the world. Given that, it comes as a surprise when an Ajit Singh rally in Amroha - a constituency already held by his party RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal)- witnesses a turnout of less than 10 thousand people. His rally at Baghpat earlier this month was attended by almost two lakh people.

"Post riots things have changed," says Narender Singh, a grassroots worker of RLD in Amroha district. "No one can beat Choudhry Saab (Ajit Singh) in Baghpat but the other seats around will be hard to save this time," he adds.

 Western UP: In the Jat heartland, religion trumps farming concerns

Ajit Singh. AFP

After the Muzaffarnagar and Shamli riots in September last year, it's evident that in the western part of Uttar Pradesh, all traditional caste and community equations have become irrelevant. It is now a straightforward Hindu vote vs Muslim vote story. While the Muslim electorate has four different parties seeking its attention, the Hindu Jats in this region have to chose between two options - the BJP and the RLD.

The Jat-Muslim relation has certainly turned uglier after the riots, say locals. There's a growing gap between the communities now and there is no force to keep them together. "Earlier, the local Muslims never had an antagonistic relationship with the Jats as both are farming communities and the issues involving both were common. Our concerns as farmers overrode every other consideration," says Devendra Singh Mahadeo, a sugarcane farmer in Rajjepur village who was part of Ajit's rally.

"For farmers there is no better option than Ajit Singh but this time the election is not being fought on the issue of farmers," he adds. He says he will probably vote for the BJP this time. "There is a strong anti-Congress sentiment and that will drown Ajit Singh."

The BJP is set to gain in this part of the state. The party's candidate from Amroha, Kunwar Singh Tanwar, a real estate magnate from Delhi, is leaving no stones unturned to make sure the undivided Hindu and Jat votes are polled in favour of the BJP. Tanwar, apart from being the BJP candidate, has made a name for himself in the constituency by dolling out freebies. In his sprawling farmhouse right beside the NH 24, almost 10,000 people gather around for free lunch everyday.

According to some farmers here, Tanwar has personally been taking interest in the matter of the farmers. "That naturally makes him popular," says Ajay Singh, a local sarpanch. "On the top of that a vote for him is going to be a vote for Modi, then why not?" asks Singh. Rivals have already accused the BJP candidate of using unfair means. "He is giving away money to people and it's not a healthy practice. There will be major implications of it," says an RLD worker in Amroha.

The deep-seated resentment among the Jats towards the Samajwadi Party is obvious. They are soft on the Mayawati-led BSP though. "It (BSP) was never an option for us, but during the party's rule the state had everyone in their place," says Suresh Singh Pura Mahadeo in Joya village. But this time for Suresh and his kin there is barely any other option than the BJP.

"Ajit Singh is still our first choice but no one wants to go to a sinking ship," says Suresh. "The youth in the family now don't follow the old traditions anymore. Many of them are drifting away form agriculture and they are not very familiar with the what Chaudhry Charan Singh meant for us Jats. They are excited by Modi," he says.

Keeping in mind the voters' mood, the RLD has fielded Rakesh Tikait from Amroha. Tikait, son of legendary farmer leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, is a fiery leader. But even he finds keeping the Jat votes with him difficult. "No work has been done for the farmers in this state. Send me to Parliament and I'll fight for your rights," Tikait delivered a speech sitting next to Ajit Singh, but to his disappointment the crowd had already started thinning with not many people to cheer his rhetoric.

If the pre-poll reactions are to be read here, then it's safe to presume that defying the legacy of Chaudhry Charan Singh and Mahendra Singh Tikait, the Jats are going to pledge their allegiance to the BJP. But that's not necessarily a win-win situation for the party. In a constituency like Amroha, where there are almost 30 percent Muslim voters, the BJP stands a winning chance if only the Muslim votes are divided among all the players who are now after them.

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Updated Date: Apr 15, 2014 21:09:35 IST