Emerging cracks in SP-RLD alliance and a desperate Shah

UP Assembly Elections 2022 । The Peculiar Precursor: Part 2; Have old communal fault lines emerged again that had led to the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and mobilised Jaats in favour of BJP in last assembly elections?

SP
Emerging cracks in SP-RLD alliance and a desperate Shah.

You can read the part 1 here

No one was talking of BJP in the western UP from start. In fact, political commentators have projected great loss for BJP on western seats owing to farmers movement. Videos are viral of campaigning BJP leaders that are forced to flee villages in many areas. Despite all these initial favourable circumstances for opposition alliance, Amit Shah hopped on to the centre stage from nowhere and raised the political temperature.

After a prolonged spell of showers, cold wave and fog the political weather in Uttar Pradesh has now come to an instant boil with newfound fissures and old fault lines revived.

Discontent over ticket distribution by SP 

The exodus that started a couple of weeks back from other parties to Samajwadi Party (SP) had resulted in major incongruencies in the ticket distribution. This had led to anger and dissatisfaction among Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) members i.e., Jaat community, special case being the Siwalkhas assembly constituency in Meerut where a senior Jaat leader Rajkumar Sangwan was denied ticket and Ghulam Mohammed was fielded on SP ticket. This sparked anger in the Jaat community. Jaat Mahasabha announced that it will not vote for Muslim candidates fielded by SP. This in turn generated reaction among Muslims who started campaigning against Jaat candidates fielded by RLD.

Muslims were already disgruntled on ticket distribution in Muzaffarnagar. Muzaffarnagar district has 41 percent Muslim population but SP-RLD has not fielded a single Muslim candidate in its six assembly constituencies. A common sense has uncommonly prevailed here in so called secular parties that fielding Muslim candidates would split Muslim votes. This apprehension may be termed as grounded since Mayawati’s BSP and Owaisi’s AIMIM have already fielded Muslim candidates on many seats. But RLD and SP did not apprehend the larger fallout of their strategy.

It seemed that ‘unfair’ ticket distribution in opposition alliance was just an excuse for larger socio-political assertion that essentially stems out of political representation in a demography where Hindu Jaats and Muslims have comparable size. Here Shah has sensed an opportunity.

Shah kicked off BJP’s electoral campaign from Kairana on January 23rd where he resorted to the old rant of Hindu migration. Then he tried to outreach Hindu Jaat community by referring to a common enemy “Mughals” against which “BJP and Jaats are fighting for last 650 years”! On the Republic Day he met some Jaat leaders in Delhi and assured them of a Bharat Ratna to Chaudhary Charan Singh. Finally, he extended an olive branch to RLD for formal support but he was outrightly snubbed by Chaudhary.

A political party having a life of around forty years referring to its history of 650 years might create much humour on twitter but the point did not go unnoticed with opposition and media. Shah’s overtures forced RLD and SP to show their joint strength.

January 28th, Friday witnessed a political drama when Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Chaudhary were scheduled to hold a joint press conference in Muzaffarnagar and Meerut. On the other hand, Yogi Adityanath had also announced a door-to-door campaign from Kankarkheda, Meerut. His program was decided on the previous night in a hurry to counter SP-RLD cementing efforts. Akhilesh reached Delhi but could not reach Muzaffarnagar on time where he was scheduled to hold a presser with Jayant at 1.00 p.m. He alleged BJP of holding back his helicopter.

SP-RLD alliance on fragile grounds?

Akhilesh’s allegations may be true or false. It does not matter. BJP’s desperation to keep opposition at bay by hook or by crook may be understood easily. But question must be asked to SP-RLD as to why there was any need to respond to Amit Shah’s provocations? Have they really become suspicious of Jaat-Muslim unity in Western UP? Keeping the opposition leadership intact seems obvious but is this not an acceptance in hindsight that SP-RLD alliance has finally received a jolt? Plus, old communal fault lines have also emerged again that had led to the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and mobilised Jaats in favour of BJP in last assembly elections?

If the opposition alliance finds itself forced to react upon Shah’s gestures in its so-called stronghold Jaat constituencies (especially after farmers movement) then something peculiar must be happening on ground that cannot be ignored. To understand this scenario, no generalisation would help.

A senior Congress leader from Meerut strikes an interesting analogy with last Bihar assembly elections when he says, “See, we witnessed a current in favour of RJD in Bihar much later when polls had started. In contrast we have seen upsurge in anti-BJP perception here in UP from very start, much before first nomination. Bihar’s electorate sustained the wave but it seems tough here because eventually keeping an alliance as large as SP-plus intact is very tough, especially for the young duo”.

The alliance between young duo i.e., Akhilesh and Jayant is limited to just less than 100 seats and differences at the level of affiliated communities are already out in open. As we move to further phases, there are various small parties that are essentially OBC caste groups in alliance with SP. Each and every caste group would prefer tickets to its community leader. This is where the true statesmanship of the future CM would be put to test. Already Jaats are mocking Jayant Chaudhary on the prospect of Akhilesh Yadav being CM face and Chaudhary turned subservient.

Congress scraping for the left overs

As the mercury keeps rising in Jaat belt that goes to polls on February 10th and 14th, Congress party is fighting hard to keep its candidates intact. Big faces have left the party in last week including the royal family heir RPN Singh from Padrauna, who was an official star campaigner for UP elections. Sunita Aeron, who was INC’s official candidate from Bareilly Cantt left the party. She was Priyanka Gandhi’s pick. After much brainstorming party announced its third list of candidates on the night of January 26th. It came as a surprise for most of the aspiring candidates in Saharanpur whose applications were denied at the last moment. Six of seven constituencies saw unusual names popping up in the list that left many old faces disgruntled.

Senior leader and three-time MLA candidate from Saharanpur city Uma Bhushan blames party leadership, specially western UP in-charge for INC Dhiraj Gurjar for the mishap. She says, “He came in Saharanpur to finalise tickets. I went to meet him. He was so arrogant. He said why don’t you directly go to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, after all you are family’s old friend”.

Reiterating her account, she accused Gurjar of insulting her. She headed straight to New Delhi AICC the very next morning to complain of his misdeeds. Likewise, a probable INC candidate from Charthawal constituency of Meerut Nakul Sirohi was denied ticket and a most improbable lady was fielded at the last moment. This lady is one of the wives of Arshad Rana, the man whose footage was viral in media crying and complaining that he was asked for 67 lakh rupees for a ticket from BSP and cheated.

Congress leadership could have avoided all these allegations if they had acted on complaints against Dhiraj Gurjar that included an audio tape demanding a bribe of 10 lakh for INC ticket. A whistle blower from inside the party had sent this audio to top leadership that later got leaked into media. Almost everyone was aware of this misdeed that could have brought grave consequences for Gurjar and his accomplices in UP Congress Committee, but no action was taken. On the contrary Gurjar was listed as star campaigner two days later.

A senior functionary from UPCC alleges, “Everyone knows that Congress is not fighting to win so whatever they could earn by selling tickets is the ultimate saving. Top leadership has closed its eyes on the small group of its highly trusted people that are making money through their agents in district committees”.

As of now, Congress has just made a single mark by fulfilling its promise of fielding 40 percent female candidates in every list. The process by which these candidates have been secured is highly apolitical and unprofessional. At the root of this problem is the multi-channel candidate selection process from independent researchers directly reporting to Priyanka Gandhi team. Here “poaching” is the safest mantra for selecting candidates and this requires waiting until the last moment when other parties finalise their lists. Whatever is left out serves on the Congress platter, whether for a fee or for free.

From West UP to Eastern UP: Unpredictable

This peculiar precursor to UP assembly election is turning into a much more complex plot in the coming days when polling moves from West to East. Seven phase is a long time for change of narrative and counter narrative. Besides, no one knows what BJP has in its coffers for polarising the electorate. But one thing seems for sure- those who have stayed loyal to their parties will have the last laugh and party hoppers would run to save their face.

The telling evidence of this fact could be seen in Imran Masood who was spotted in the nomination of SP-RLD candidates in Saharanpur. He was the first to leave Congress for SP and now he is empty handed with an unusual obligation to help alliance candidates win. He cannot refuse for obvious reasons since socio-political influence weighs more than political representation in traditional Indian polity. Ticket may be risked for once but none could risk his or her political clout. Switchover of RPN Singh and other heavyweights must be seen in this light.

Wherever political representation directly bears source of socio-political influence, Amit Shah obviously comes into picture!

Not a co-incidence that he is back again! After Akhilesh left Western UP, Shah reached Deoband (Saharanpur) the very next day for a door-to-door campaign flouting all COVID norms. Visuals below speak a lot of the real ground situation in a city that is known for the seat of Islamic seminary throughout world.

The author is a veteran journalist and editor of web portal junputh.com

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