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Jayant Singh and RLD in NDA: Who gains, who loses

The Congress may be the biggest beneficiary of RLD’s exit from the INDIA alliance, with the chances of a Congress-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance looking brighter. To build a narrative, Mayawati or Mallikarjun Kharge could contest from Nagina. That would alter the political atmosphere in western Uttar Pradesh

Political defections no longer surprise anyone. But, still, few had anticipated that the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Chaudhary Jayant Singh would jump on the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) bandwagon. Until recently, everything was hunky-dory. Samajwadi Party (SP) national president Akhilesh Yadav had announced that his party had forged an alliance with the RLD, giving it seven seats. Then, out of the blue, there were rumours that Jayant was in talks with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). What led to cracks developing in this strong alliance that has been sustained since 2022? 

It was a given that the SP and RLD would contest Lok Sabha elections together and there were many reasons for it. Akhilesh and Jayant were on cordial terms despite the RLD’s poor showing in the 2022 Assembly Elections. The anti-BJP sentiment in western Uttar Pradesh, often described as the state’s “Kisan Belt”, that peaked during the farmers’ protest in 2022 were yet to dissipate. The Muslim voters of western Uttar Pradesh had backed the RLD in the 2022 polls and that led to an impression that the invincible Jat-Muslim alliance would stay intact.  

There were two other reasons to believe that RLD wouldn’t go with the BJP. First, the manner in which Jayant’s father Ajit Singh was evicted from his government bungalow in Delhi had angered the party’s rank and file. Late Ajit Singh had wanted to turn his government bungalow, 12 Tughlaq Road, into a memorial to Chaudhary Charan Singh. But the Narendra Modi government, which assumed power in 2014, would have none of it. In September 2014, the Modi government not only forcibly evicted Ajit Singh from the bungalow but also made him pay a hefty fine.

Even if Jayant chose to ignore his father’s humiliation, he himself was at the receiving end of the government’s wrath. In October 2020, police rained lathis on Jayant while he was proceeding to Hathras. Jayant had himself related this tale of woes to the media on numerous occasions. Moreover, the Jats, core voters of the RLD, were yet to forgive the government for the way it dealt with the 2021 farmers’ movement.

Jayant Singh, president, Rashtriya Lok Dal

It is not that rumours of Jayant joining the BJP camp were anything new. During the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha elections, there were credible reports that many RLD leaders were in touch with the BJP. Several BJP leaders went on record with their assertion that sooner or later, Jayant Singh would align with their party. Remarks were made, like “Jayant is a nice chap”. It was Jayant who ultimately put a stop to these rumours. Addressing a public meeting at Mathura in January 2022, he said, “I am not a coin that will turn.” 

But the coin did turn. After the Government of India announced conferment of Bharat Ratna on his grandfather and former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, Jayant said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “won my heart”. This three-word comment on social media was indication enough that the NDA has won over another political party. Why did Jayant choose to align with the BJP? How would this decision impact the politics of Uttar Pradesh? 

It is clear that the awarding of Bharat Ratna to Chaudhary Charan Singh alone could not have been sufficient reason for Jayant switching sides. Of course, Charan Singh and RLD founder Ajit Singh were also known for changing their political loyalties frequently but there is more to Jayant’s move than meets the eye. The choice of candidates for Muzaffarnagar and Kairana Lok Sabha constituencies was one reason. The SP had agreed to give seven seats to the RLD but of them, there were at least three on which Akhilesh wanted to field SP candidates on RLD symbol. They were Kairana, Muzaffarnagar and Bijnor, with Muzaffarnagar becoming the bone of contention. 

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Ajit Singh had contested from Muzaffarnagar as an RLD nominee. But despite an alliance with the BSP and the SP, he lost by a margin of around 6,000 votes. The winner was BJP leader Sanjeev Baliyan, who is presently a union minister. In the upcoming elections, Akhilesh Yadav wanted to field Harendra Malik from there. Jayant Singh had promised wrestler Sakshi Malik that she would be the opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) alliance’s candidate. Jayant Singh had to settle old scores with Harendra Malik and refused to yield. And Akhilesh was equally adamant. 

The situation related to Kairana was no different. Jayant was keen to field former minister Amir Aalam Khan or his son Nawazish Aalam from there while Akhilesh was sure that former MP Tabassum Hasan or her daughter Ikra Hasan was the best bet. Be that as it may, despite aligning with the BJP, the Kairana and Muzaffarnagar seats are unlikely to end up in RLD’s share. Besides Baghpat, Jayant may get Mathura, Amroha or Bijnor seats.  

Here, it would be pertinent to assess how the politics of western Uttar Pradesh would be impacted by Jayant switching to the BJP and how it would dent the prospects of the opposition (INDIA) alliance. Common sense dictates that losing a formidable partner on the eve of the polls is indeed a big jolt for any alliance. But that does not seem to be the case here for two reasons. To begin with, the Jats, RLD’s core vote bank, are already with the BJP in this region.  

In the wake of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, a big chunk of the Jat voters in Baghpat, Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Bijnor districts, had inched closer to the BJP. The RLD is only left with a few Jats who are unwilling to back the BJP because of their secular credentials or because they are unhappy with the way the farmers’ protest was dealt with. These voters are unlikely to follow Jayant into the BJP. Then, in the 2022 Assembly Elections, a substantial number of Muslim voters had backed the RLD. The RLD could not have even come close to winning without the support of the Muslim voters in the Mirapur, Shamli, Thana Bhavan and Khatauli assembly segments. Clearly, the RLD would lose these voters. 

The Congress may be the biggest beneficiary of RLD’s exit from the INDIA alliance, with the chances of a Congress-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance looking brighter. It is believed that given the social distance between the Jats and the Jatavs, the SP and the Congress can gain from RLD’s move. The INDIA alliance can make good the loss due to RLD’s exit through two means – one, by wooing the Dalits and two, by tapping into the anger among the farmers. 

If the ticket distribution is judicious, INDIA can can put up a strong showing in Saharanpur, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Nagina, Moradabad, Amroha, Bulandshahr, Sambhal, Aonla, Badaun, Aligarh and Rampur constituencies. To build a narrative, Mayawati or Mallikarjun Kharge could contest from Nagina. That would alter the political atmosphere in western UP. But such decisions would need strong political will, which is not visible in the opposition camp, at least as of now. 

(Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)

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About The Author

Saiyed Zegham Murtaza

Syed Zegham Murtaza is an independent journalist based in Delhi. Born in Amroha, Uttar Pradesh, Murtaza has a masters in public administration and mass communication from Aligarh Muslim University. He is a regular contributor to various newspapers, magazines and news websites.

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