In this battleground State of Uttar Pradesh where the BJP’s new dispensation, Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh, has their put might and money to win back the mandate it had won in the mid- and late 1990s under Vajpayee-Advani tutelage to bring themselves within striking distance of power in Delhi, voters in 10 Lok Sabha constituencies will be deciding the fortunes of 146 candidates.
This is where the destiny of who sits where in the next Lok Sabha will be decided or would begin to be decided. The tension is palpable among the contestants, if not among the voters, of Ghaziabad, Baghpat, Gautam Budh Nagar, Bulandshahr, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Aligarh and Kairana.
Common sense says that the battleground seats in the Jat belt of western Uttar Pradesh, going to polls on Thursday, are already in the BJP’s kitty.
Muzaffarnagar is at the heart of these clutch of seats and these sugar-rich farmlands are the prime catchment area of the communally charged legacy of the riots that swept the area last year.
Not only had the angry Jats been conclusively ‘saffronised’, recent reports pointed to a loosening of Mayawati’s rock-solid Dalit votebank, with indications that some of them may even vote on “Hindu” lines. This is borne out of a journey through three of the districts.
The BJP clearly has the edge. But there may be a surprise twist too: for, there are also signs that the Congress-RLD combine and the BSP may be making a good fight back. It is not so much the UPA government’s move to extend OBC reservations to the Jats with an eye on the elections which is keeping RLD-Congress in the reckoning in this part, but the choice of candidates as well.
So, if former army chief V K Singh, famous for the retirement age controversy, appears to be the front-runner in Ghaziabad, a seat from which Rajnath opted out, BSP candidate Mukul Upadhyay and Congress’ Raj Babbar are giving him a tough fight.
The AAP is a no longer a catchy story.
The voters, who learnt their lesson by choosing ‘an outsider’ last election, cite the fact that Upadhyay’s politics is tied to the local environment and Congress’ Babbar has been taking up their cause with the local police and the goons in the run up to the elections. Similar surprise stories abound in Bijnor, Meerut, and Baghpat.
RLD chief and Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh’s fate will be decided in Baghpat and he’s certainly not having it easy. Jat villages are divided between ‘Kamal ka phool’ and their old allegiance to Singh and his family. Says retired banker Sampath Singh, “The villages on the right of the road will vote for BJP and the left will vote for Ajit Singh - what has the Supreme Court said today, quota will be there or not?”
Well, it is the Congress-RLD candidates who are tuning into the apex court’s pronouncement on Jat reservation, not so much the voters who see it as a cynical move to influence them. Cine star Nagma, the Congress candidate in Meerut, exhausted from her campaigning, tells her manager to find out the details.
But BJP’s candidate in Bijnor Bharatendu Singh, an accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots says, he’s not worried that “the Jat brotherhood is with us - the media can spread what they want”. His BJP counterpart in Muzaffarnagar, Sajeev Ballian, says his party is “contesting on the development plank of Modiji - and the people want change in Delhi”.
Three communities, the Jat, Muslims and Dalits, will decide who will be the winners of this contest. As for the ruling Samajwadi Party, going by the 2009 record, it does not have much stake in these seats.