Though high hopes are shaping up of a grand alliance.
Lisar village, on the border of Shamli and Muzaffarnagar, earned notoriety as the epicentre of the 2013 riots that engulfed western Uttar Pradesh’s sugarcane belt. A rural community, torn asunder by the violence, has still not recovered. There remains just one Muslim family, the rest having left in the 2013 exodus.
The electoral choices of the village underwent a shift in the recent Kairana bypoll, with Jats voting for the Rashtriya Lok Dal in large numbers. There are complaints galore vis-a-vis the BJP, which emerged as their party of choice in 2013.
Sugar mills, Jat farmers say, have paid their dues only till December 2017. “We have to be paid outstanding dues till April and even May. The BJP promised that it would get our dues cleared within two weeks but little happened,” says Veer Singh, brooding over the hukkah. He adds that many youth still have riot cases pending against them, and the BJP has done little to help.
The complaints multiply as more people join the discussion — one topic being that Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh was made to vacate his bungalow in Delhi.
Jats here have high hopes from the grand alliance shaping up, but agree that the BJP would win without it.
Talk about the riot and the Jats are either in denial or exude a martial pride. The responses vary from claims that Muslims set their own houses afire for compensation to the assertion that Jats cannot be defeated in combat. “Jats can fight them on their own strength any day. They don’t need the BJP for that,” says an ageing Veer Singh at his large house.
However, the Jat-dominated Titoly village, at a distance from the epicentre, is mixed in its political choices. “The Jats have just taught a lesson to the BJP. A package has already been announced. But many will vote again for the BJP in 2019,” says Satender, a Jat farmer.
His son, who just trained in Delhi to write the Civil Services exam, says: “The Hindu-Muslim polarisation is here to stay. It deepened in 2013, with the SP government provoking the Jats by backing Muslims.”
Virender Singh, an old Jat farmer, says it is too early to predict what will happen in 2019. “If the alliance stays, the BJP may lose by a narrow margin, but if even one party walks out of the grand alliance, the BJP will surely win here.”
Apart from the upper castes — Brahmins, Thakurs and Baniyas — who are strongly with the BJP here, the party has made deep inroads among the most backward castes. The Kashyap settlement on the outskirts of Lisar shows that this most backward caste is strongly aligned with the BJP.
“There has been no Prime Minister like Narendra Modi. If he returns in 2019, we will have Ram Rajya,” says an old, frail man who belongs to the caste. Asked if his life has changed for the better under the BJP, he says, “We are poor labourers and our condition can never change, but Modi is making the country proud all over the world.”
What does Ram Rajya mean for him? “Law and order is much better under the BJP and goons have been reined in. Is this not Ram Rajya,” asks the man who refuses to reveal his name.
The group of Kashyap caste members — with lands ranging from a measly one to three bighas, even as five bighas form an acre here — assert that they are “proud Hindus” and will vote for the BJP again.
“Mandalisation whetted the appetite of smaller, backward castes for representation, but the SP and the BSP were more identified with the Yadavs and Jatavs. The RSS and the BJP have reached out to many smaller OBCs and this has worked for them,” Allahabad-based academic Badri Narayan told The Media over phone. With the BJP not fielding Muslims, it also has more seats to offer to the most backward sections without reducing the share of the upper castes.
However, the BJP faces brewing Dalit discontent in the region. Ashok, a small shopkeeper in Lisar’s Harijan settlement — the caste engaged in leather work in U.P. calls itself Harijan in rural areas — says the Saharanpur incident and the jailing of Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad rankle the Harijans.
Asked why he thought the Bhim Army was targeted, he lowers his voice and says: “They fought the Thakurs. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is also a Thakur. Caste decides these things here.”
A grand alliance can possibly make Muslims, Dalits and a chunk of Jats vote together in 2019. But the BJP — powered by community polarisation, upper caste goodwill and strong support from smaller OBCs — is still no pushover here.