Lucknow: The Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the regional powerhouse in western Uttar Pradesh that has seen its political fortunes dip since 2014, is now getting a fillip from the farmers’ protests against the Narendra Modi government.
The RLD primarily draws its influence from farmers in western UP, particularly those belonging to the Jat community.
Having lost this vote-bank to the BJP over successive elections since 2014, the RLD is now looking to capitalise on growing resentment among Jats against the BJP government in the state over the farmer protests.
It has rolled out plans to orchestrate its revival around the farmers’ movement. RLD vice-president and former MP Jayant Chaudhary has been travelling from one district to another district in the region to attend several mahapanchayats, which have been called to show solidarity with the farmers’ movement and the Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait.
Tikait’s emotional outburst at the Ghazipur border last week has created a sympathy wave for him and the agitation across the rural belt of western UP.
RLD’s ‘Let’s go to village’ campaign
As part of its drive to show solidarity with the protesting farmers, the RLD has decided to launch a ‘Chalo Gaon Ki Oar’ campaign from 12 February, the 82nd birthday of party chief Ajit Singh.
The campaign will see Jayant Chaudhary, Ajit Singh’s son, spend seven nights in different villages of Agra and Aligarh divisions.
“In the Chalo Gaon Ki Oar campaign, we will make people aware about farm bills by visiting each and every village,” Chaudhary told ThePrint. “We will also inform them as to how the farmer leaders and members of the Jat community were grotesquely tortured by the government at several places including the Ghazipur border.”
Between 5 and 10 February, Chaudhary will address farmers in Shamli, Bulandshahr and Amroha.
Chaudhary had travelled to the Ghazipur border to meet Rakesh Tikait on 29 January and then attended the mahapanchayat summoned by Naresh Tikait at Muzaffarnagar the same day.
He has since addressed many other mahapanchayats in Baghpat, Mathura and Bijnor.
Chaudhary has made his party’s intentions clear in these addresses — to rally Hindu and Muslim farmers divided after the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013.
“Each and every person in western UP should know the reality behind the reasons that brought tears to Rakesh Tikait’s eyes,” he said at one of the rallies. “The BJP will surely try to play the Hindu-Muslim card during the elections; there is an urgent need for us to be cautious and remain alert about this ploy.”
A RLD leader told ThePrint that the party will go out of its way to unite Hindus and Muslims in western UP.
“We do not want to let the Jat vs Muslim narrative develop any further. We will try to turn it into Jat-plus-Muslim vs the BJP,” he said. “In the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots, a narrative of Jat vs Muslim had developed here that greatly benefited the BJP. But this time our effort is to not let it happen. Jayant will lead the party from the front, while Chaudhary Sahab (Ajit Chaudhary) will also address some rallies.”
A second RLD leader said that combining the Muslim and Jat vote will ensure a formidable electoral alliance in western UP.
Jats constitute around 6-7 per cent of the state’s population. They make up about 17 per cent of the electorate in 18 Lok Sabha seats in western UP and hold influence in about 120 assembly seats in the region.
Muslims, on the other hand, are over 25 per cent of the population in western UP.
Party to restructure organisation
According to Jayant Chaudhary, the BJP government will acknowledge and realise the unity of the farmers of western UP only when there is strong political opposition. “Right now only the RLD can provide such an option. This is the reason why plans are being made to strengthen the organisation,” he said.
Chaudhary said the party was earlier divided into four sub-zones in each district but is now being restructured to cater to 10 sub-zones.
“The party organisation has been divided in the entire state along these lines. There are plans to announce details about the state committee after the panchayat elections,” he said.
Chaudhary, however, said the party has not yet decided on whether it will contest the panchayat elections to be held in March 2021 on its own symbol.
“If the party decides not to contest on its own symbol then candidates supported by it might be fielded in the elections. As far as the assembly elections (in 2022) are concerned, RLD’s alliance with the Samajwadi Party remains intact even today.”
On the growing resentment among the farmers against the government, Chaudhary said: “Today BJP MPs and MLAs are completely unable to summon the courage to visit the villages. The BJP government itself is responsible for this kind of situation. This is the reason we want to travel from village to village and tell the people about lies being spread by the BJP, so that the party is never able to spread any lies in future with the help of its IT cell.”
The task ahead
For all its mobilisation, the RLD has its work cut out if it wants to transform its solidarity with the farmers into political capital.
For one, it has been consistently losing ground in its once stronghold of western UP. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, held right after the Muzaffarnagar riots, the RLD contested on eight seats in alliance with the Congress. It lost all eight of them.
Ajit Singh himself lost from Baghpat while Chaudhary tasted defeat at Mathura.
In the 2017 assembly elections, the party contested as many as 150 seats and ended up winning just one.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the RLD was part of the Grand Alliance along with the SP and BSP. It contested on two Parliamentary seats and lost both — Ajit Singh lost from Muzaffarnagar while Chaudhary was defeated at Baghpat.
The party had once won five Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 Parliamentary elections. It had also won nine assembly seats in 2012 while it had clinched 10 seats in the 2007 assembly elections.
Political commentator and a faculty member at the Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Dr Rajendra Kumar Pandey, told ThePrint that the RLD still faces a daunting prospect.
“The RLD has been weak here for the past few years. Both father and son have racked up successive losses but this kisan andolan has brought them some hope,” Pandey said. “They are trying to become the voices of Jats and are expecting Muslim support as they are in alliance with the Samajwadi Party. The Muslim-Jat combination could be a winning one but its not easy to bring them together after the Muzzaffarnagar riots. So I would say the RLD’s path is still tough.”