The Costly Handshake With Ajit Singh: BJP May Do It For #UP2017

The Costly Handshake With Ajit Singh: BJP May Do It For #UP2017

by Dr A.K Verma - Sunday, May 15, 2016 11:36 AM IST
The Costly Handshake With Ajit Singh: BJP May Do It For #UP2017Ajit Singh of the RLD (RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)
    • Ajit Singh of the RLD was said to be in talks for an alliance with both the JD(U) and the BJP for the UP assembly elections next year
    • With respect to the BJP, where does Ajit Singh and RLD fit in its plan for UP 2017? Read here:

If there is one politician in India who has the skills to exploit all other parties to his maximum advantage, then he is none other than Chaudhury Ajit Singh, president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), a political party operating in the western part of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Ajit Singh is the son of the Jat leader and former Prime Minister of India, the late Chaudhury Charan Singh, who earned for himself the title, ‘king of defections’. However, Charan Singh’s expertise in parliamentary democracy, land reforms, rural economy and agrarian matters was par excellence.

Contrary to that, his son Ajit had been away from ruralism. He developed expertise in computers and served with IBM, USA for about 15 years before joining the Indian political scene in 1986, in the wake of his father’s declining health. Charan Singh died in 1987, since then, Ajit has taken the mantle of his father and has successfully represented the Jats of western UP. However, in doing that, he never bothered about the ideological orientations but pursued politics like his cyber projects and clinched the best deal, be it with anyone.

But, with Ajit Singh’s entry also came the division of the rural community between him and Mulayam Singh Yadav, who considered himself the political heir of Charan Singh. While Ajit got confined to western UP, Mulayam got the rest of the rural support in the state. That split between Ajit and Mulayam was also a split between the affluent Jat farmers of western UP and the poor kisans in the eastern part of the state, and it not only harmed farmers’ mobilisation, land reforms and rural development in UP, but also prevented homogenisation of the rural community and the evolution of a robust rural political party. Had the two communities been together, the face of Indian politics would most certainly have been different.

Because of Ajit Singh’s hold on the Jats of the western Uttar Pradesh and also because of his ‘free radical’ nature, most political parties thought that they could rope him into their side, provided they offered him the best deal. He was with the BJP in the 2002 assembly elections in UP, but after the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, when Congress formed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre, he quickly switched sides and joined the UPA and secured a cabinet berth (civil aviation) for himself.

Since the 2015 assembly elections in Bihar, during which the ‘Nitish-Lalu’ duo (along with Congress) nearly wiped out the BJP in the state, efforts are being made to take Prime Minister Modi head on in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections by forming an anti-BJP front at the national level.

Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar, earlier tried to unite the erstwhile Janata Parivar by bringing in six parties viz. JD (U), RJD, Samajwadi Party, JD (S), INLD and Samajwadi Janata Party together but Mulayam Singh torpedoed that move despite being anointed the President of the new formation. Mulayam had several fears regarding the unification.

One, Nitish may have spoilt his ambition to become the prime minister. Two, the Mahagathbandhan may have compromised the identity and predominance of SP in the UP politics, And, three, any such revival may given his staunch rival Ajit Singh some respectability which he certainly would not have liked.

So, Nitish got a jolt, as no major political player (SP, BSP or Congress) in UP was willing to be a launch pad for his national trajectory.

Consequently, Nitish tried to rope in some minor regional players in the UP like the RLD, Apna Dal, Mahan Dal and Peace Party. It was in this light that Nitish and Ajit came together. The JD (U) had extended its support to the RLD candidates earlier in the UP assembly by-elections in Bikapur (Faizabad), Muzaffarnagar and Deoband (Saharanpur).

But, Ajit Singh being a tough bargainer, Nitish was at his wits end to accommodate his wild demands which, reportedly, included a cabinet berth (in the event of government formation), an RS seat for him and a prominent role for his son Jayant in the UP elections.

Ajit Singh, though, on his part, became suspicious of the success of Nitish’s initiative. So, he simultaneously opened his communication with the other parties too, especially with the BJP which appeared to be inclined to negotiate with Ajit for few a simple reasons.

One, it had secured 77 percent Jat votes in UP in 2014 and had consequently done very well in the western part of the state; however, what also must be kept in mind therein is the fragmentation of the Jat-Muslim votes on communal lines in the wake of Muzzaffarnagar riots. The party apprehends that it may not replicate that performance in coming assembly or Lok Sabha elections. Hence, it might necessarily have to travel an extra mile to rope them in.

Source: National Election Studies 2014, CSDS Data Unit, as published with author’s paper in EPW, September 2014
Source: National Election Studies 2014, CSDS Data Unit, as published with author’s paper in EPW, September 2014

Two, the party is facing Jat ire over the land acquisition ordinance, and Jat reservation issue in Haryana. The Jats are influential in about 136 assembly constituencies across 17 districts in the western part of UP; they also have significant presence in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and some parts of Rajasthan. From the BJP’s perspective, an alliance with Ajit would probably help them resolve the Jat issues amicably though its Jat leaders from the western UP, like Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan and MLA Sangeet Som have serious reservations on that.

Third, any anti-BJP posturing by the Jats will have serious ramifications not only in the assembly elections in UP but will also have a pan-India impact which may harm the BJP’s interests in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This is also significant in the light of dilution of schism between the Jats and the Muslims. Add to this the disillusionment that the Jats hold with the BJP leadership on the latter’s claims that it will provide them relief with respect to the arrests of the Jat boys in wake of the Muzzaffarnagar riots.

Hence, the BJP is keen not only to get the Jat votes but also to maintain a pro-farmer posture. So, with Ajit and RLD on its side, they may not be so much a gainer, but without them, they might surely be a serious loser.

Thus, Ajit appears to be having fortunes on both his hands and whether he goes with Nitish or with the BJP the real question is who will fall in his trap. But, if his stars do not favour, he may be deserted by both the BJP and Nitish. If that happens, Ajit and the RLD might be sent to oblivion for long.

A K Verma is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.

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