The Hastinapur Dharma And Demographics: Why Mahagathbandhan Has An Edge Over The BJP In Baghpat
In Baghpat, a Charan Singh bastion, the going may not be easy for the BJP.
If at all the party wins, it will only be due to the Modi factor, as caste loyalties and the ‘Chaudhury legacy’ run high in this region.
Addressing a rally in Saharanpur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashed out at Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Ajit Singh and Jayant Chaudhary, for allying with the Samajwadi Party, “which supported rioters” during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar violence. He took the father-son duo to task for forgetting the atrocities against people in self-interest. “Just imagine, what will happen to the soul of Chaudhary Charan Singh who gave his life to uphold national interest,” Modi said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s national president, Amit Shah, was in Baghpat last week. Reminding the people of the work done by their representative, Satyapal Singh, in the last five years, Shah strove to stake claim on Charan Singh’s legacy. “Whoever works for farmers and development of the area, he will be the real heir of Chaudhary Charan Singh,” he said.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath too said in a rally in Baghpat that Chaudhary Charan Singh used to talk about farmers, villages and the country but his son and grandson couldn’t handle his legacy. “Today, he (Charan Singh) would’ve been very upset to see them standing with rioters,” Adityanath said.
These statements by the three most important leaders of the BJP tell us how relevant Charan Singh is to the politics of western Uttar Pradesh even after more than 30 years of his death. Singh may have been the tallest leader to emerge from the Jat community in post-Independence India but he wasn’t a Jat leader. ‘Chaudhary Sahab’, as he was fondly called, instead, positioned himself as a kisan neta and successfully forged AJGAR, a political alliance of influential agrarian castes of western Uttar Pradesh - Ahirs, Jats, Gujjars and Rajputs - to come to power in the state.
When he passed away, Lok Dal had 85 MLAs. Today, it has none. Its lone MLA from Chhaprauli who won in 2017 by a small margin of over 3,000 votes also defected to the BJP. Yadavs, Gujjars and Rajputs have moved away from the party. No wonder that its geographical footprint has diminished to historical lows and is now limited to only one constituency - Baghpat.
Baghpat is the Chaudhary family bastion in the true sense. In the last 11 Lok Sabha contests, the family has won nine times (three times by Charan Singh, six times by Ajit Singh) - losing only twice, once in the 1999 election, which happened after Kargil, and then in 2014 when the Modi wave took the country by storm.
The constituency is said to have little less than 4 lakh Jat voters, followed by over 3 lakh Muslims, 1.5 lakh Dalits and an equal number of Brahmins or Tyagis. In 2014, BJP’s Satyapal Singh secured 42.2 per cent of the votes while SP-BSP-RLD’s combined vote share stood at 55.3 per cent. Going by arithmetic alone, the Mahagathbandhan’s candidate, Jayant Chaudhary, has a decisive edge.
But can chemistry on the ground trump the demographic arithmetical advantage of the Opposition?
Split in Jat votes, others remain with the BJP
On the Delhi-Baghpat highway lies Katha. As we enter the village, we spot a youth engaged in a conversation with two elders. “In this village, Jayant Chaudhary has an edge. We want to make him win this time because Satyapal Singh has to be defeated from here. His conduct with people isn’t right,” says retired Subedar Tej Singh Tomar.
Contrast this with what the 26-year-old youth, who is in the Army and posted in Kutch, has to say: “See, the problem is their mindset. He is an aged person. They want a politician who sits with them on their cot. It doesn’t matter to them if Satyapal Singh has got so many works done in the constituency. In any case, should one look at the prime minister or the local candidate? They don’t even know this basic fact.” This youth has come home to not just cast his vote but also convince others to vote for the BJP.
“Any family that has a soldier serving in the Army will vote for the BJP. And in this village, 70 per cent Jats are with the BJP,” he adds.
On enquiring more about Tej Singh Tomar’s opposition to Satyapal, he reveals that their local BJP MLA from Baghpat, Yogesh Dhama, should’ve got the ticket but Satyapal didn’t let that happen and that’s why people are against him. On asking if he would’ve voted for the BJP if Dhama was its candidate, he refuses.
“These people in kurta pyjama are traditional RLD voters. They will keep voting for the party no matter who the candidate is. Young folks and women are with the BJP. Even Jatavs are supporting Modi,” the youth says. The other elder standing there nods in agreement.
A few metres ahead, four people are sitting outside a shop reading newspapers. “What has Satyapal done? Even construction of this Delhi-Saharanpur road has started just now. Last time, he won due to the Modi wave. This time, it’s one-sided in favour of Jayant Chaudhary,” says Vinod Tomar and his friend who voted for Ajit Singh in 2014.
They sided with BJP in the 2017 Assembly elections because of Yogesh Dhama. “Chaudhariyon ka naam mitawange yahan se? If we go outside and someone asks where we are from, at least we can say, we are from Chaudhary’s area,” Vinod adds. “Singh is a farmer leader. He listens to us. We have no relation with BJP,” says Bhagat Tomar, an elder in his late 70s.
Impact of Rahul’s manifesto
“Rahul ke manifesto se bahut fark pada hai (Rahul’s manifesto has had a substantive impact). I think at least 5-7 people have changed their minds,” says Pradeep Tomar. His father, Dharam Pal, says that since there are many government servants in this village, their families will vote for the BJP. “It’s country first for me. Rahul Gandhi talks about diluting Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), not removing Article 370. This is not acceptable,” Chandra Pal, a retired Army veteran and customer at the shop, says.
After the Balakot airstrikes and the PM-Kisan scheme, national security related proposals in the Congress manifesto seem to be emerging as a big factor in deciding people’s voting preferences. Due to democratisation of data, such information now trickles down easily and quite fast even in rural areas. Going viral is no more an online phenomenon.
In Shikohpur village near Baraut, a retired policeman, Mahipal Singh Tomar, told Swarajya that though many villagers are in the mood to vote for RLD again, Rahul Gandhi’s proposals such as not removing Article 370, amending the law to decriminalise sedition and forging an alliance with those who propose “two PMs in one country” are really weighing on voters’ minds.
For farmer Kapil Tomar and his son Subhash Tomar, the pathetic state of agriculture is the main issue in the election. “Farmers don’t have a voice in the BJP. When we went to put our demands to Delhi, we were beaten up,” says Kapil Tomar.
His son, Subhash Tomar, says that youth in their family are still with Modi. “Two of our kids are even campaigning for the BJP. They go out early in the morning and come late in the night,” he tells Swarajya.
Pramod Tomar, another farmer in his 40s, says that Jat youth are still with Modi and the RLD’s position in the villages is weaker than before. “It’s Modi all the way. Though I am voting for RLD, my son is with the BJP,” he says. Two elders sitting outside his home are staunch old-time Lok Dal supporters. They dispute Pramod’s claim that majority of villagers are with the BJP.
Rahul Tomar, a 24-year-old student from the village who attends coaching classes in Baraut daily for the UP Police exam, told Swarajya that a lot of development work has happened in the past five years. “Kuchha village streets are now cement lanes. Power supply has doubled from 7-8 hours a day to more than 16 hours now,” he says. “Though private jobs are non-existent here, the Yogi government has conducted exams for more than a lakh police posts, results of which are due,” he adds.
In Dhikoli, one of the largest Jat villages in Baghpat Assembly constituency, the community is equally divided. A group of six villagers are playing cards in a palatial haveli. Four are with the BJP, two elders are supporting RLD. “Modi jaisa raja nahi mile bhai par hum to Lok Dal ko he vote dete hain (The country won’t get a leader like Modi, but we are RLD voters),” says octogenarian Dharambir Singh.
Ajit Singh, a retired warrant officer from the Indian Air Force is all praise for Modi but says that support for the BJP in Dhikoli is less than what it was in 2014 because of issues such as pending sugarcane dues. Sandeep Dhaka, a property dealer in his late 30s, although critical of Modi because of the fall in real estate prices due to which his personal business has suffered, says, “There is no alternative. We shouldn’t look at a local candidate. In the country’s interest, I have to vote for Modi.”
At another chaupal over hookah and cards, Satendra Dhaka, an RLD supporter, is appreciative of Modi’s leadership, but says that Satyapal Singh didn’t perform well. “He isn’t accessible. At least, he should’ve come here often after winning. That’s what villagers expect,” he says.
In Baraut town, Badan Singh Doon, who has a tyre showroom near Awas Vikas colony, is a long-time Lok Dal supporter and a fierce critic of Modi. “He lies so much. He told us that sugarcane dues will be cleared within 14 days under the BJP government. It’s taking months. Satyapal Singh claims to have started construction of the Delhi-Saharanpur highway but the work has started only a couple of months back. They have dug up the whole stretch. It’s a mess. It’s just to show off before the polls. You come here on 12 April, and the whole work will come to a standstill. Just wait and watch,” Doon says.
In Baghpat town, Ajay Solanki, who owns many private buses, raised the same issues that Doon from Baraut did but employed refined rhetorical flourishes while doing so. Pramod Upadhyay, a paan-wala tells Swarajya that he is a local RLD leader.
“Modi has given a free hand to the Army while dealing with terrorists and Pakistan!” Neeraj and Sanjeev Prajapati, two three-wheeler tempo drivers, got into a shouting match with Solanki when the latter was listing out the failures of the Modi government. “There is no leader better than Modi. Congress and Opposition speak the language of the enemies of India,” Prajapati says.
In Bhajan Vihar of Baghpat, a group of 11 youngsters was seen sitting on a cot and a few chairs outside a shop. Four of them were playing ludo. The group was as diverse as it gets - two Jats, one Jogi, one Brahmin, one Thakur, three Chauhans, one Kumahar, one Jhimmar and one Sunar.
“We play ludo in the afternoon and IPL in the evening. All of us are Modi supporters. No other brand is selling here except Modi,” says Arun Panwar. “Last time I voted for Chaudhary Sahab but I have become a Modi fan now. My family is also now a staunch Modi supporter,” he adds.
Panwar has finished his college education but hasn’t got any job yet despite taking coaching for competitive exams. On asking about unemployment in Modi rule, Panwar says it’s not Modi’s fault but his own. “My friends and family members who worked hard are all employed now. I studied but didn’t work hard enough,” he says.
While Jats are seen divided in whichever area one picks in Baghpat Lok Sabha seat, other castes which voted for the BJP in 2014 have stayed with it.
In Ahera village, less than 5 km from Baghpat, where Gujjars are the single largest caste, the craze for Modi is higher than what it was in 2014.
Omprakash Gujjar, a farmer who is preparing fodder for his cattle with his two sons, takes time off from work to talk to us. He lists four reasons why he is a Modi fan. “Firstly, notebandi. No other leader had the courage to make such a bold move in going after black money. Second, Modi is the first leader who showed courage in sending forces inside Pakistan twice. Ghar mein ghus ke maara (He entered Pakistani territory and hit them). Third, Modi brought back Abhinandan within a day from Pakistan. Fourth, Modi improved relations with all countries, which bore fruit during the clash with Pakistan as all supported India.” His son Chand Gujjar is an even bigger fan. “Modi ke liye to mar bhi sakte hain aur maar bhi sakte hain (We can die for Modi, or even kill for Modi),” he boasts in casual bravado.
Just outside the village, we encounter a farmer who is returning from his fields. His reasons to support the BJP are local. “All streets in our village are now cemented. Earlier, there used to be a huge mess during monsoons when lanes would become muddy. There has been huge improvement in cleanliness due to construction of small drains on both sides of the paved road. Pehle maar-dhaad bahut hoti thi (Earlier, there was a lot of violence). The previous administration was lenient towards criminals. Now, that’s not the case,” Shripal Gujjar tells Swarajya. However, he laments that the government hasn’t done much for the farmers and their condition remains pathetic.
In Pillana, which lies on the Baghpat-Meerut highway, at a spare-parts shop, Amit Sharma and Manish Jatav laud PM Modi for giving a befitting reply to Pakistan and conducting the A-SAT missile test which took India into the top four nations category. “Satyapal Singh or not, candidate doesn’t matter. We are voting for Modi,” Sharma says. Jatav says that many in his community will be voting for the BJP this time.
Aminagar Sarai is 5 km from Pillana and is a small town in Baghpat Assembly constituency. Here, the BJP performed well in 2014. In the market, Perumal Mittal, a trader, says that though no development work has happened in Sarai, he will vote for the BJP because there is no alternative. Sachin Saini, a 25-year- old pan and cigarette seller, is all praise for Modi for bringing back Abhinandan alive in no time. “Modi is doing good things for the country. We have 120 Saini votes in our colony and almost all will go the BJP,” he tells.
Arun Kumar Prajapati, a 19-year-old who is sitting in his father’s stead at their tea shop as the latter has gone shopping, expresses similar sentiments. He is preparing for government job exams.
Pradeep and Monu Kashyap have recently opened up a small mobile repair shop after failing to get a job in the Army. “The government can’t give jobs to everyone. I also didn’t get one. It doesn’t mean I sit idle waiting for the government to give me a job and curse it if it fails. I started my own shop. There is no dearth of work for those who are willing to make efforts,” says 23-year old Monu. “We used to fear travelling on roads after sunset. The situation was this bad in some places. Now, there is no problem,” Pradeep tells Swarajya.
In Gejha, a Jat-majority village which falls in Modinagar Assembly constituency, the same story of a split in community votes between RLD and the BJP plays out. Four youth who are standing outside a small grocery shop are all Modi supporters though they say that in local elections, they would prefer RLD.
“Modi has done good work as prime minister. We like his schemes. Here in the village too, we have got all concrete streets. The road connecting our village is also being widened,” says Vikas Rathi, owner of the shop which is very close to the village temple. In the temple premises, a group of 13 villagers is playing volleyball. Eight of them are BJP supporters, two are undecided and three back the RLD as their families are traditional RLD voters.
A few kilometres from Gejha is Bhandoola. Tyagis are the single largest caste in the village followed by Dalits. “Jab se Modi aaya hai tab se yahan BJP ke he votes jyaada hain (Ever since Modi has come on the national scene, support for BJP has grown here). No one is voting for the party though. It’s all because of Modi,” says young Ashwini Tyagi. “My Jat friends from surrounding villages are also voting for Modi even though their families are Lok Dal supporters,” he adds.
In the Jatav colony, 70-year-old Mukesh Jatav says that this time, although there is less support for the BJP compared to 2014, his vote will again go to Modi. “Modi ne vikas kiya hai (Modi has brought development). Be it roads, toilets, cylinders or housing, the poor have benefited a lot. We have 11 votes in the family. All will go to the BJP, but I can’t speak on behalf of the whole colony,” he says.
In Modinagar, which is the biggest town in Baghpat constituency, the BJP swept the polls last time. The situation won’t be different in 2019 too going by the conversations this correspondent had with voters in the area.
The Hastinapur Dharma
In Baghpat, Modinagar and even to some extent in Baraut area, the Jat vote is split but not overwhelmingly in favour of the RLD. However, that’s not the case in Chhaprauli and Siwal Khas Assembly constituencies, where Jayant Chaudhary clearly has an edge. Also, these areas don’t have any major towns where BJP tends to do well. Hence, it’s advantage Lok Dal.
Malakpur village falls on Baraut-Chhaprauli road. Here, Jats are in a majority. Most of the villagers are firmly behind RLD. Anil Kumar Tomar doesn’t have a problem with Satyapal Singh but he is in Chaudhary’s camp. “Satyapal tried his best but his writ does not run. Our identity is because of Chaudhary Charan Singh; that’s why we will be voting for Lok Dal,” he says.
“In Delhi, our leader is Ajit Singh. We can’t raise our demands with Satyapal Singh the way we can with Chaudhary Sahab,” former sarpanch of the village, Jaiveer Tomar tells Swarajya. Sunny Tomar, a youth, differs. “This is a national election. There is no use voting for Jayant here. We are electing the prime minister in this election,” he says.
Bhagat Singh Tomar, a young farmer, agrees with Sunny. “Modi brought Abhinandan back from Pakistan in a matter of hours. He is a strong leader. That’s why everyone is ganging up against him.”
Sinauli village which is a few kilometres from Malakpur, came into the limelight when archaeologists dug up chariots during an excavation here, suggesting the presence of a warrior class as long back as 3,000 BC. Here too, the old-young divide between RLD and the BJP is visible.
Octogenarian Randhir Singh Maan says he has been voting for RLD since Chaudhary Charan Singh’s time and will continue to do so till his death. “Ajit Singh opened up mills in the area. This is the reason why farmers in this part of UP are prosperous,” he reasons.
Ankur Maan, a young lad, is a BJP supporter. “We used to get power for only 7-8 hours per day. Now, the supply has improved to 15-16 hours.” Three youngsters outside a shop on the main road of the village also say they will be voting for Modi.
Vipin Maan, who is in his 50s, agrees that Modi has done good work and gunda gardi in the region has been stopped. But he says he will still vote for RLD. His son, however, supports Modi. “BJP is the only nationalist party. It is the only party that speaks for Hindutva. Just look at the Congress manifesto. How can one support such proposals,” says Atish Maan.
From Sinauli, we move to Shabga, another big village in which Jats are in a majority. Here, one Jat elder who didn’t wish to be identified, told Swarajya that he doesn’t want to vote for RLD but has to because of his brother and he can’t “betray” him.
“Ajit Singh can’t get anything done. Whatever issue he has raised in the past, he hasn’t been able to take them to their logical conclusion, be it sugarcane dues, electricity problem or the Harit Pradesh matter. Earlier, sugarcane dues were pending for years. Now, farmers are getting their payment within a few months. There are separate power lines for villages and for farms. So, definitely there is development compared to previous regimes,” he says.
“Lekin, Charan Singh ji ki vajah se vote deni padegi. Kya karein (But what to do. Due to Charan Singh, we have to vote for RLD. We are helpless). This is the only party we have, however bad it is,” he adds.
From Shabga, we travel to Chhaprauli town. Here, non-Jats are with the BJP. Jats are divided, but a majority of them favour Ajit Singh’s party. “Modi says he is a chaukidar but when it comes to our farms, stray cattle are eating our crops. We have to be vigilant. Most of them just roam the streets. There is no management for this problem. We are really fed up,” Prem Pal Khokhar, a 60-year-old farmer in the town laments.
Two other elders who are sitting in his chaupal are critical of Satyapal Singh and his attitude towards those who go to meet him in Delhi.
From Chhaprauli, we go to Tikri village, a large Jat-majority village, which RLD swept in 2014 in spite of the Modi wave. Villagers aren’t really happy with Ajit Singh, even those who are supporting the RLD. “Whatever happens in the village, Ajit doesn’t come here. In 2014, he lost?, but hasn’t visited the village even once though he won from here by a huge margin,” Parvendra Rathi laments. “Jats ne inke peeche lag kar apne naash kar liya (Jats backed him, and signed their own death warrant),” Iqbal Singh says.
Ajit Singh is more inaccessible than Satyapal but still most of the villagers vote for Lok Dal. Why is that? “Jaise Baba Bhishma Hastinapur se bandhe hue the, waise he hum Charan Singh ke parivaar se bandhe hain (Just as Bhishma was indebted and pledged to Hastinapur, so are we to Charan Singh’s party),” explains Salet Singh Rathi, who is in his late 80s. Six more elders who are smoking hookah at his chaupal nod in agreement.
“Last time, these kids spoiled many votes. They sided with the BJP. This time we will be careful,” he adds,” says Ombir Rathi in jest, pointing to a thick stick in a not-so-veiled threat to the youth in the family. His grandson, sitting beside him, smiles sheepishly.
In Doghat, which is just four km from Tikri, the same story repeats. “This time, we are firmly behind the RLD. Our Yuva Dal (in a jibe at youth) went against us. But not this time. They will have to vote with us,” says Krishna Panwar in his palatial baithak. His son doesn’t disagree. “We got misled last time. Modi promised jobs but there are none to be found. I will also vote for RLD,” says young Abhilash Panwar.
In this big village, other castes are with the BJP. Two Jat youth we met outside the village proclaimed their support for Modi but say that support for the saffron party has diminished compared to last time.
“Ajit has done nothing. If Jayant wins, even he will do nothing. Ajit doesn’t respect people. But he is ours nonetheless. This time, we will put our monies on the boy,” says Rajkumar Panwar.
The Hastinapur Dharma at work, it appears.
Last time, Ajit Singh got 200,000 votes and since there was no mahagathbandhan (though he was in alliance with Congress), it would be safe to conclude that RLD got more than 50 per cent of Jat votes when the Modi wave was at its peak. If his son even maintains that vote-share, which looks likely, and get three lakh-plus Muslim votes, an overwhelming majority of which are in the Mahagathbandhan camp, he clearly has an edge. On top of all this, add hardcore Jatav voters and Chaudhary’s victory seems to be a foregone conclusion.
In the end, the fight may be tight and the winner will be decided by a few thousand votes.
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