BAGHPAT: The roads leading to Baghpat are chock-a-block with buntings and banners as the D-Day to vote comes up. The dhabas on the flanks are full of people, exchanging anecdotal notes on past elections and in deep discussion over the spectre of a direct contest.
It’s obvious from small talk that local candidates, especially of the BJP, would have to depend on Narendra Modi to have currency and negate some apparent anti-incumbency. It’s especially so here in Baghpat and adjacent Muzaffarnagar, both forming the heart of the Jat land. Satyapal Singh, Union Minister of State, is contesting Baghpat and Sanjeev Balyan in Muzaffarnagar.
There is a sense of urgency among saffron party workers who are leaving no stone unturned to convince the electorate to vote for the party. “We do come across complaints that the MP wasn’t regularly visiting some parts of the constituency; that some folks availed benefits from Central schemes like Ujjwala and Ayushman Bharat, while others didn’t. During door-to-door canvassing, we argue that the constituency is too big for an MP to be visible everywhere all the time, while those left out would certainly get covered soon in the welfare programmes,” said Dr Vidhvotma, a BJP worker and lecturer in SPRC Degree college.
Satyapal is up against Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) nominee Jayant Chaudhary, the scion of revered Chaudhary Charan Singh. Though there are a few independent candidates in the fray, the contest is seen to be ‘overwhelmingly’ between Singh and Chaudhary —both hailing from the Jat community.
Jat elders swear by the legacy of former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh. Yet, youngsters suggest that they aren’t tied to old bonds. “There’s a 60:40 split among Jats, who number over four lakh in the constituency boasting of more than 13 lakh voters. Jats above 50 years of age here have emotional bonds with Chaudhary Saab, but the youngsters lament that the first Jat family, despite being elected for many decades, didn’t bring development,” said Satyapal Choudhary, a Jat farmer in Katha village.
Bringing some sense of comfort to Jayant is the prospect of a sizeable minority vote base, which potentially could flock to him, unlike 2014, when the votes were split between him and a Muslim candidate. “Muslims here are clear that they would vote for Jayant. There’s no Hindu-Muslim discord here. After Pulwama, Muslims raised slogans against Pakistan here. We would be supporting him for the old ties the minority community has with the family,” said Haroon Ali, an ironsmith at Badhout. Muslims constitute 29% of the electorate here.
However, the translation of the grand alliance arithmetic is yet to be tested on the ground, while extremely backward castes (EBCs), including Kashyap, Saini, Prajapati and others, who once flocked to Bahujan Samajwadi Party, are showing signs of drifting to the BJP. “We have seen RLD supremo Ajit Singh winning from here on numerous occasions. He never worked for development... Under the Modi government, the smaller castes have benefited from Central schemes, including Ujjwala,” said Devendra Singh, a Kashyap and farmer.
In neighbouring Muzaffarnagar, which saw communal riots ahead of 2014 elections, signs of voter fatigue with incumbent MP Balyan, who had also been Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, is obvious. “People in villages are questioning Balyan where he was in the past five years,” said Shalini Bharadwaj, a Brahmin, who swears to vote against the BJP for an alternative.