Jayant Chaudhary Takes Over RLD: West UP Is Ripe for a New Leader
There are three interrelated challenges that Jayant Chaudhary faces as he takes over the reins of the RLD.
Jayant Chaudhary took over as the President of the Rashtriya Lok Dal on Tuesday 25 May. This decision was taken at the national executive meeting of the party held online on the same day. This comes less than three weeks after the death of RLD founder and Jayant Chaudhary's father Chaudhary Ajit Singh.
Soon after his appointment, Chaudhary tweeted:
“I am honoured and mindful of challenges ahead. Will try my best to strengthen our organisation and will value inputs as we collectively take our core issues forward. Am drafting an open letter to express my condolences and solidarity with all COVID-impacted families as a first step.”Jayant Chaudhary, President, Rashtriya Lok Dal
Chaudhary takes over the reins of the party at a very critical juncture, with the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh due in about 8-9 months.
There are three interrelated problems that the RLD faces:
- Broken social coalition
- Winning back Jats
- Electoral decline
1. RLD's Broken Social Coalition
Former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, Jayant Chaudhary's grandfather, wasn't seen purely as a Jat leader. Rather he was respected a great deal among farmers across North India.
The AJGAR (Ahir-Jat-Gujjar-Rajput) social alliance first proposed by iconic farmer leader Sir Chhotu Ram, was used by Charan Singh in the 1970s to break the Congress’ hold in Uttar Pradesh.
This was most effective in Western UP where these castes - most of them agrarian - had gained some mobility due to the Green Revolution.
In the 1980s, a sizable chunk of Muslims also joined this alliance after falling out with the Congress due to rise in communal attacks.
However, Chaudhary Charan Singh's death in 1986 and later the Ram Mandir movement further eroded this base with the BJP winning over agrarian Upper Castes as well as a section of OBCs. The RLD, formed in 1996, became largely seen as a Jat + Muslim party of West UP. But its alliance with the BJP led to a decline in Muslim support and it also legitimised the saffron party among Jats.
The 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal violence led to the decimation of RLD's agrarian politics, with Jats shifting to the BJP and Muslims to SP and BSP.
2. Decline Among Jats
The most crucial element to the RLD's revival is winning back the support of its core constituency - the Jat community.
The RLD's support among Jats has declined considerably.
From once winning a lion’s share of the community’s vote, the party’s hold slipped to 13 per cent in the 2014 general elections and just 7 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, according to CSDS’ survey.
It did marginally better in the 2017 Assembly polls.
It's decline has been particularly sharp among younger Jats, who shifted to the BJP after the 2013 violence. In fact during the violence, many of the younger Jats are said to have told the older leadership to "step aside or become irrelevant".
3. Electoral Decline
In terms of seats too, the RLD has declined over the years.
From two seats in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections and three in 2004, the RLD reached its peak in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections winning 5 seats in Western UP. However it failed to win a single seat both in 2014 and 2019. In the UP Assembly, it won 15 seats in 2002, 10 in 2007 and nine in 2012 elections before falling to just 1 in 2017.
However, a somewhat positive note for it is that in 2019, in which it contested in alliance with the SP and BSP, it was leading in four Assembly segments: Budhana and Charthawal in the Muzaffarnagar Lok Sabha seat where Ajit Singh was contesting and Siwalkhas and Chhaprauli in Baghpat where the candidate was Jayant Chaudhary.
The recently concluded Panchayat elections signal a revival for the RLD as it did well in Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Baghpat, Hapur, Bijnor and Bulandshahr districts.
Can Jayant Chaudhary Revive RLD's Fortunes?
To his credit, Jayant Chaudhary has been working very hard not just to revive the RLD but also agrarian politics in Western UP.
He has been one the politicians most supportive of the farmers' movement against the Narendra Modi government's farm laws and he addressed rallies in a number of places.
Chaudhary sees agrarian politics not just as an antidote to communal polarisation but also caste rivalries.
“Why do we display our caste on vehicles. Why can’t we proudly write ‘Kisan’s Son’?” Chaudhary said at a rally in Jaipur in 2018, a point that he has been stressing at several gatherings ever since.
In particular, Chaudhary has been trying to win over Jat youth - a section that had almost entirely shifted to the BJP after 2013. He even led a protest against the Hathras rape case and had to face a lathi-charge from the police.
No doubt there is a churn underway in Western UP due to the increasing anger among farmers against the BJP. The RLD's strong performance and BJP's under par showing in the recent Panchayat elections bear testimony to this.
This churn began with the protests against non payment of dues to farmers and high power tariffs. But after in the last six months, these protests got aligned to the larger farmers' movement against the Centre's farm laws.
With the influential Bharatiya Kisan Union led by Naresh Tikait and Rakesh Tikait also on the warpath against the BJP, this is a great opportunity for the Chaudhary to revive agrarian politics in UP.
Amit Shah’s Challenge
BJP insiders say that the party’s ‘Chanakya’ Amit Shah had once claimed that he wants to “end the politics of the Ajit Singh family” in West UP. For a while Amit Shah was successful especially with the decline of the RLD’s base following the 2013 Muzaffarnagar violence.
However, somehow the party has managed to survive. The large scale farmers’ protest and the RLD’s success in the recent Panchayat elections indicate that the party remains a formidable threat to the BJP in West UP.
In fact, as things stand today, the RLD seems to be one party that is best placed to inflict serious damage on the BJP - if it ends up winning back the saffron party’s Jat votebank and defeat communal polarisation through agrarian politics.
The time is ripe for Jayant Chaudhary to retrieve lost ground in West UP.
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.