New Delhi: Western Uttar Pradesh with 113 Assembly seats has emerged as the main stumbling block for BJP’s daunting ambition to bag 300 plus Assembly berths in the state, with elections in this region slated to be held in the first two phases — February 10 and February 14. Farmers’ agitation, price rise and communally-charged rhetoric could hit the BJP hard in this agrarian sector dominated by the Jats and Muslims. To make things worse, the Samyu-kta Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella organisation of farmer unions, launched “Mission UP” against the BJP a couple of days back.
Speaking to this newspaper, a senior BJP functionary maintained that efforts to regain support in western UP would be an “uphill task” for the party. Pocketing nearly 50 per cent of the Jat votes, the BJP had swept the region, winning 91 of the 113 seats during the 2017 Assembly polls. The Samajwadi Party had lagged far behind with only 17 seats. The farmers’ agitation, however, has changed the scenario. The coming together of the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal as a formidable combination could deliver a body blow to BJP’s quest for UP. The Jats, who comprise only two per cent in the entire state, however, account for 18 per cent in western UP. The Muslim population in this region is a little over 25 per cent.
The traditional harmony between the Jats and Muslims was shattered by the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The Jats had turned against the Muslims and it was an advantage to the BJP. The scars remained and the BJP, riding on the Modi wave, wiped away the secularists in western UP in 2017.
As the wounds healed and the farmers’ agitation peaked, the traditional “bhaichara”, between the Jats and Muslims returned. The Jat leadership has now been reaching out to their Muslim “brothers”. The situation got tougher when the Rakesh Tikait-led Bharatiya Kisan Union(BKU) urged farmers to support the SP-RLD alliance.
Reeling under the farmers’ backlash, the BJP swung into action and dispatched Union minister of state Sanjeev Balyan, who hails from the same “khap” as of Mr Tikait, to hold parleys. Following the meeting, Mr Tikait took a U-turn and said that the BKU “stood neutral”. He maintained that following the SKM diktat, the BKU would remain apolitical and not support any party. While the BJP functionaries regarded this as a “positive” development, sources revealed that Mr Balyan had met Mr Tikat to urge him to “allow” BJP leaders to campaign in the region. Even though Mr Tikait retracted his open support to the SP-RLD alliance, he dropped hints on what the farmers should do. “We will not support anybody, but everyone knows what needs to be done,” he said.
Sources further disclosed that even though the SKM has not extended support to any political outfit, it would be campaigning against the BJP in the entire state. “There’s a lot of anger amongst farmers against the UP government,” an SKM leader was quoted as saying.
However, the BJP, which appeared to be on the backfoot in this region was pinning its hopes on Dalit votes and the entry of AIMIM leader Assaduddin Owaisi. The AIMIM fielding candidates in western UP could splinter the Muslim votes and benefit the BJP, a BJP leader said. BJP heavyweights, including Union home minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda, would be touring western UP and meeting Jat leaders next week. In a bit to counter the Jat anger, the BJP has also been wooing the sizeable Gurjar community in the region and had recently celebrated its icon Mihira Bhoj.