BJP supporters listen to a speech of Home Minister Amit Shah during an election rally in Loni, Ghaziabad district on February 3, 2022. Prakash SINGH / AFP)
New Delhi: It was an action-packed Thursday in western Uttar Pradesh. With only a week to go for the first round of the battle royale, all the big guns thronged the region. On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a virtual rally in Aligarh, Noida, Meerut, Ghaziabad and Hapur. His virtual outreach will cover 23 Assembly constituencies. Western UP, one of the most politically sensitive and highly polarised regions, will go to the polls in the first of seven phases on February 10.
Ranging from home minister Amit Shah, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, his ally RLD chief Jayant Chaudhury, BSP supremo Mayawati and Congress scion Priyanka Gandhi Vadra paradropped to woo the Western UP electorate. While the home minister covered Anupshahr, Dibai and Loni, Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Chaudhary reached out to voters in Bulandshahr. AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra zipped across Anupshahr and Siana. BSP chief Mayawati made her presence felt at Kavinagar, Ghaziabad. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath held a press conference to highlight the achievements of his government.
It may be mentioned here that western UP, with the domination of Jats and Muslims, has emerged as a tricky terrain for the BJP. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav is on record as saying that the "first phase in UP is a farmers’ election and will set the tone for the remaining phases".
While the SP-RLD alliance is trying to unite Jats and Muslims against the BJP, the saffron brigade is relentlessly wooing the Jat community with its Hindutva push. As a BJP leader puts it: "In Western UP, the fight is between the SP’s OBC outreach and the BJP’s Hindutva push."
Jats comprise around 17 per cent in Western UP and have a significant influence in nearly 40 Assembly seats and around 10 Lok Sabha berths. In the first phase, 58 seats in Jat-dominated Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Shamli, Hapur, Baghpat, Gautam Budh Nagar, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Mathura and Agra will go to the polls.
In a bid to counter the BJP’s Hindutva agenda, the SP is trying hard to get back the formidable combination of 17 per cent Jats and 26 per cent Muslims back on track following its alliance with the RLD. However, in 2017, while the SP won 21 seats, the RLD managed only one seat in the region. Also, in the last two decades, the RLD seemed to have weakened significantly in western UP. Hit by Mayawati’s social engineering, a huge chunk of the RLD vote bank had shifted to the BSP. In 2014, Jat votes began to gravitate towards the BJP.
Some of the BJP’s spin doctors observed that the SP-RLD alliance "just might work in their favour". They argued that "while the SP’s Muslim vote will move to the RLD, Jat votes might not shift to the SP’s Muslim candidates". For these BJP leaders, Jat votes would also "split between the BJP and the RLD". However, the socialists claimed that Western UP "is all set to witness the return of the MAJGAR alliances (Muslim, Ahir, Jat, Gujjar and Rajput, including farmers) formed by the late Chaudhary Charan Singh.
In 2017, of the 136 seats in Western UP, while the BJP won 109 seats, getting nearly 43 per cent of the vote, the SP managed to bag 21, the BSP three, the Congress two and the RLD only one.