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Wooing Jat farm leaders like Tikaits, attacking RLD: BJP’s 2-pronged strategy for west UP

Out of 403 seats in UP, 113 are in western UP. BJP swept the region in 2017, winning 91 seats, but expects some damage this year on account of the farmers protest.

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New Delhi: An apparent “courtesy call” from Union minister Sanjeev Balyan to Jat leader and Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) president Naresh Tikait Monday has created quite a political flutter in western Uttar Pradesh, where assembly polls are due next month.

UP BJP sources told ThePrint that the party was making strategic outreach efforts towards farmer leaders ahead of polls in the state. As part of its efforts, the party is also ramping up its rhetoric against the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which is believed to have a significant support base among Jat farmers.

Balyan told ThePrint that his visit with Naresh Tikait in Sisauli village, Muzaffarnagar, was just a “courtesy call”.

“He suffered an injury a few days ago, so I came here to enquire about his health. He is the chaudhary (leader) of our khap (Jat community organisation),” Balyan, who is also the BJP MP from Muzaffaranagar, said.

Naresh Tikait in turn told mediapersons that the meeting was a social visit. Both Naresh Tikait and his brother Rakesh Tikait have said that the BKU is not associated with any political party and that doors are open for everyone.

However, soon after the meeting with Balyan, Naresh Tikait pointedly distanced himself from statements he had made earlier about supporting the Samajwadi Party(SP)-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance in the state.

Hum thoda sa faltu bol gaye. Hume aisa nahi kehna chahiye tha (What I had said was a little pointless. I shouldn’t have said it),” he said after the meeting, adding that he did not want to be removed from the avowedly apolitical Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), a coalition of farmers’ bodies that led the protest against the now-repealed farm laws.

BJP social media teams, meanwhile, went into overdrive, sending out messages to hundreds of WhatsApp groups in western UP about this development.

BJP sources also told ThePrint that Balyan’s visit was part of a strategy to reach out to Jat farmers who seem to be leaning towards the SP-RLD alliance despite the BJP government repealing the three controversial farm laws last year.

The party is making plans to establish better relations with Jat leaders, especially those associated with the BKU, in western UP, where the first two phases of assembly election will be held on 10 and 14 February. “Home Minister Amit Shah will also meet Jat leaders in western UP after next week,” a BJP leader said.

Yogesh Dhama, BJP MLA from Baghpat, told ThePrint that efforts were on to clear the “misgivings” of farmers about the ruling party.

“We are meeting with community leaders, especially among the Jats, to reassure farmers. Most farmers’ issues have been resolved after the repeal of the farm laws and the Yogi government’s decision to hike sugarcane prices, but they still have misgivings,” Dhama said, adding that the best way to get the support of farmers was to apprise them of the government’s initiatives for their welfare.

Also Read: Colleges, expressways, airports: Why BJP is looking east in UP with ‘Purvanchal Vikas Model’

BJP training guns on RLD

As part of its strategy in the Jat belt, the BJP has also ramped up its rhetoric against the RLD, which has a significant support base among farmers.

Until now, the BJP had focused its ire on the Samajwadi Party and had not paid much attention to the RLD. However, the official Twitter handle of the UP BJP launched a new video clip this week that contrasts the anti-SP stance of the late RLD chief Ajit Singh with that of his son Jayant Chaudhary, who is in an alliance with the SP.

The video alleges that Chaudhary has let down Jats in various ways and has ignored the legacy of his own father due to his “lalach (greed)” for power.

Farmers, caste calculations high on BJP’s western UP agenda

A BJP MLA from western UP said the party expected “some loss” in western UP due to the famers’ protests, but that effective campaigning could help turn things around.

“We repealed those laws, but farmers have not forgotten their distress. Covid-related unemployment and the inflation in the prices of petrol and diesel could also affect our prospects. But, though there might be a dent in Jat votes, it will not be at the level where the BJP will be in danger,” he said.

There are 113 assembly seats in western UP out a total of 403 in the state.

In 2012, when the Samajwadi Party came to power in UP, it won 41 of the 113 seats, while the BSP and the BJP won 35 and 18, respectively. The RLD and the Congress won eight seats each.

In 2017, the BJP swept the region, winning 91 seats, while the SP was a distant second with 17 seats. The BSP and the Congress won two seats each and the RLD only 1. In 2017, the BJP got 50 per cent of the Jat votes in this region.

While Jats comprise less than 2 per cent of the overall population in UP, they account for up to 18 per cent of the population in some western districts.

The SP-RLD alliance is banking on Jat-Muslim unity as well as anti-BJP sentiments among farmers to sway voters in their favour. The BJP, meanwhile, is laying its bets on counter-polarisation among OBC communities as well as on communal grounds.

The BJP is counting on Gujjar consolidation to work in its favour (as evidenced in recent projects celebrating the Gujjar icon Mihira Bhoja) and a split in the BSP’s Dalit votes.

A senior UP BJP leader told ThePrint that the party was evaluating multiple caste calculations.

“If the Jats polarise for RLD-SP, we will focus on Gujjar Saini consolidation. But, the transfer of Jat votes to Samajwadi candidates will be a big challenge for the RLD where Muslim candidates are put up by the SP. We are working on many calculations, which will halt caste polarisation for SP-RLD in this region,” the leader said.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

Also Read: 10 UP MLAs, ministers quitting raises questions about BJP ‘import’ policy at cost of loyalists



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