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The West UP Despatch….Why do the Jats matter

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After a foggy and bone-chilling morning, a weak Sun is finally visible in the Western Uttar Pradesh sky.

As we wrap ourselves in thick sweaters and shawls, a group of young men wearing cut-sleeve vests and shorts are seen jogging briskly. They appear focused on completing their round before the Sun goes down. From the army to the para-military to Delhi and UP Police, these young men's ambition is get into a uniform.

The West UP Despatch….Why do the Jats matter

WHY DO THE JATS MATTER?

We are on our way back from Kairana to Shamli, which political pundits often refer to as the Jatlands and film reviewers as the Badlands. It has often been the contention of other UP wallas that Jatland and their voters always enjoy disproportionate attention. We will leave that debate for a later date and come to the question which is foremost on the minds of most people...how much will BJP lose in terms of votes in areas dominated by Jats?

First things first. Why is this question important? The significance lies in the fact that in 2014 Lok Sabha, 2017 UP Assembly and again in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Jat community voted en masse for the BJP. That, in turn, contributed to the clean sweep of the party three times in a row. Therefore, the loss of the Jat vote will be interpreted as an erosion of its support base. A perceptional loss more than a loss in actual numbers. Also, the Jats may count for less than 3 percent in the over-all UP population but they do swing the elections in many seats. Though the Jat influence is spread over 20-odd districts and 135-odd assembly segments, there are pockets like Mathura, Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar where it is as high as 30-40 percent due to heavy concentration.

Apart from the perception loss, the BJP is also wary that Jats deserting the party may have a cascading effect on voters in other belts as Jatland goes to vote in the first phase. In a multi-phased election, the trend in the initial phases creates a buzz for the later phases and can build up a positive or negative trend accordingly.

CHURNING AMONG JATS

Everywhere this columnist went a clear churning was visible among the Jat voters. And this churning appeared to be multi-layered. The women-folk spoke in quieter tones but referred mainly to day-to-day concerns. Security, toilets, regular supply of rations since COVID outbreak and houses built under the PM Awas Yojana. Some of them also mentioned the Ayushman Bharat cards for health care. Stress remained on law and order.

A generational debate was also on within the Jats. While the elders felt inclined to go with Rashtriya Lok Dal, a party they perceive as representative of the communtiy, many of the youngsters were heard weighing the benefits of the Modi-Yogi regime against the elders' inclination to go with the Chaudhary (Read RLD). Someone pointed out that BJP was ahead in the elections and it made no sense to side with the losing combine, particularly when the contentious farm bills stood withdrawn.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah's overture to Jayant Chaudhary after a long meeting with Jat leaders was meant to exacerbate this churning within the Jats. There is slim chance of any change in RLD's official position when nominations have already been completed. At best it was aimed at creating a buzz about possibilities in the future and thus influence the Jat voters who haven't yet decided whom to vote for.

BJP TRIES TO PLUG THE HOLES

The BJP's umbrella vote bank comprising of upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits had catapulted it to a historic victory in 2017 and the sweep in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This time round, the buzz around Jats' anger and the desertion of some popular OBC netas has raised questions. The party is putting in extra efforts to cut its losses on both the fronts. To minimize the Jats' anger, party workers are engaging with the community and reminding them of the law and order situation pre-2017 and the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots which was essentially a Jat-Muslim riot. Party has amplified the big number of tickets to Muslims and a few threatening videos of local SP netas to buttress its claims.

The SP-RLD has termed it as a desperate bid to open old wounds and is stressing on Bhaichara and the agrarian unity forged by the late Chaudhary Charan Singh, the tallest Kisan leader of the region. But the tickets to Muslims have definitely dampened the spirits, particularly of the young Jat voter.
While the BJP is fairly confident of the non-Yadav OBCs support, it is not leaving things to chance. Hence the 99 tickets to OBCs (Yadav included) out of the 295 declared so far. That is a straight one-third of the total candidature.

In all western UP, members of the OBC caste who crossed over to the SP seem to be affecting the BJP's prospects only in their own neighbourhood and not on their castes in general.

For BJP, Candidates A Bigger Concern

For the BJP, the anti-incumbency of their candidates in their respective seats appears to be a bigger challenge than the combined might of the SP-RLD. For one, the party has scant hopes from the Muslims voters except perhaps a chunk of women. The Jats are definitely divided and a division in their votes should be enough for the party to sail through to a second term. It is the unrest against their candidates which can upset the balance. After the defection of prominent faces such as Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan, the party stopped short of dropping as many MLAs as it would have.

No wonder, the party is focusing its campaign on law and order, infrastructure, Labharthi (beneficiaries of central and state schemes) and the vision of cultural revival and a strong, nationalist government.

That way, the party hopes to push aside the anti-incumbency of the MLA.

(Smita Mishra, Advisor, Prasar Bharati)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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