Grandpa’s charisma, Pa’s opportunism
Jayant Chaudhary might become a star in the Jat hinterland if he inherits Chaudhary Charan Singh's mass appeal, and chucks Ajit Singh's dubious shifts
Akash Bisht Kheragarh (Agra)
It's noon in Kheragarh, a non-descript town in western UP, and the sun is yet to emerge out of the dense fog. The chilly wind enters the bones, but doesn't deter hundreds of men (not one woman) squatting under the huge tin shed meant for storing grains in the town's only mandi. Smoking bidis and rubbing tobacco, they eagerly wait for Rashtriya Lok Dal's (RLD) heir apparent Jayant Chaudhary. Evoking Chaudhary Charan Singh's name and his contribution to the 'Jat cause', leaders of both parties urge people to vote for the RLD-Congress combine. "Chaudhary Charan Singh zindabad," gets them going. Jayant's reference too gets a warm response, but RLD chief Ajit Singh's name is mostly avoided.
Moments later, a helicopter appears and people rush towards the heavily guarded landing strip. Jayant Chaudhary, RLD MP from Mathura, and Congress minister Sachin Pilot wave, shake hands. Swamped by supporters, the two elbow their way into the tent. "Lok Dal main thodi bahut kohni (elbow) bhi chal jati hai," Jayant says with a smile. He then attacks the Mayawati government on forcible land acquisition and misuse of public funds for statues. "It's a sarvajan gavaya, sarvajan dukhaya government. Poor are not getting justice, and law and order is in tatters. We are worried about the future of our children
because Mayawati wants to forcibly acquire farmland from Noida to Agra," he adds, evoking the land acquisition issue, very close to the Jat community's heart.
Similar to his Lok Sabha campaign in Mathura in 2009, he invokes his 'baba's' (Charan Singh) name and avoids Ajit Singh's. He pleads, "If you think I am yours, then you should give me the strength and chance to serve you." This rally was the first of the joint campaign programmes of Congress and RLD in western UP.
Later in the evening, everyone was in for a surprise after Jayant's candidature was announced from Math constituency in Mathura. The move seems to be part of a strategy to bargain for a crucial portfolio if the alliance gets to play a kingmaker's role in the post-poll scenario in UP.
However, it won't be a cakewalk for Jayant who will face the incumbent independent, Sunder Lal Sharma, a six-time MLA from Math. "Delimitation could come to Jayant's rescue as most of Sharma's supporters, Gujjars, have been added to Chata division. Delimitation has led to an increase in Jat voters and hence his candidature," says a police official in Kheragarh.
Jats, ironically, are miffed with RLD's choice of candidates. "A Jat panchayat scheduled for the later part of the month would decide on which way their vote would swing. Back door talks to pacify the panchayat are on and if it doesn't work out, Jayant is staring at a setback," says the cop.
In Kheragarh, BSP's OBC leader, Bhagwan Singh Khushwaha, who won the last elections with a huge margin of 15,000 votes, will give a tough fight to the Congress-RLD combine. But his chances might suffer due to Peace Party's Rakesh Khushwaha. The latter could eat into the formers' vote bank and spell doom for BSP's prospects. Moreover, the Congress-RLD combine has fielded a Brahmin candidate to woo the other castes, and this might work in their favour.
Meanwhile, locals near Mathura and Agra seem happy with Jayant. "A youth icon like Rahul and Akhilesh, he has been successful in wooing young voters who associate more with him than with Ajit Singh. Even elders see shades of Chaudhary Charan Singh in him. He can be a mass leader only if he inherits his grandfather's charisma and sheds his father's opportunism," says Balbir Singh, a septuagenarian.