While the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) are trying to consolidate Brahmin votes, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), under its new chief, is trying to cover lost ground through 'Bhaichara Sammelan' in Uttar Pradesh.
This is aimed at bringing the two communities – Jats and Muslims – once considered to be the party's core vote, together in the western parts of the state.
The party has aggressively rallied behind the farmers and held mahapanchyats across the state in support of agitations against the three controversial farm laws. Following the demise of former RLD chief Ajit Singh, his son Jayant Chaudhary took reins of the party and the assembly election next year is seen as his first litmus test as party chief.
In the run up to assembly elections next year, the party is trying to lean on to its traditional vote bank which holds sway in several west UP districts including Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Meerut.
Muzaffarnagar Riots, Polarisation and RLD's Nosedive
In one of the most horrific communal riots in contemporary times, at least 60 people were killed and thousands displaced during 2013 in Muzaffarnagar.
The clash not only brought Jats and Muslims, who were otherwise peacefully coexisting, at violent loggerheads but also served a blow to RLD's traditional vote bank.
The BJP reaped benefits of the polarisation that followed in the aftermath. The party won all the seats in western UP in 2014 and the RLD lost both the seats it contested.
In Muzaffarnagar, BJP candidate Sanjeev Baliyan won by a record margin of over 4 lakh votes.
There was no respite for the party in 2019 either. Though BJP conceded some seats to the SP-BSP alliance, their stronghold continued.
In Baghpat, considered to be RLD's backyard, Jayant lost to BJP's Satyapal Singh while Ajit Singh lost to Sanjeev Balyan by a slender margin.
The only silver-lining for the party has been a win in 2018 Lok Sabha byelection on Kairana seat where the party candidate Tabassum Hasaan defeated her BJP rival Mriganka Singh.
Farmers' Protest, Panchayat elections – Party On Revival Path?
After successive defeats and RLD being relegated to its lowest totals in elections, panchayat elections held earlier this year were a shot in the arm.
RLD won nine out of 20 seats in Baghpat, seven out of 43 in Muzaffarnagar, six out of 33 in Meerut, seven out of 52 in Bulandshahr, seven out of 47 in Aligarh, and nine out of 33 in Mathura.
Political pundits see it a result of party's active participation for the cause of farmers especially in the sugarcane belt.
Jayant Chaudhary addressed several 'Kisan mahapanchayats' across the state, leading a sharp attack on the ruling BJP over the controversial farm laws and the pending cane dues.
RLD will most likely be contesting in alliance with SP in the elections due next year. Though the modalities including the seat sharing is yet to be ironed out, Chaudhary had claimed that his party will decide the language and tenor of the campaign in west UP.
Will Jats-Muslims Bury The Hatchet?
Octogenarian farmer leader Gulam Mohammed Jaula, once a close aide of legendary Mahendra Singh Tikait, who had dissociated himself with Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) post Muzaffarnagar riots, was seen at a mahapanchayat in February earlier this year.
His presence next to BKU leaders in the state set off speculation on revival of the brotherhood between the two communities.
The RLD, trying to bring the two communities together in its fold, has kickstarted 'Bhaichara sammelans.' The first such convention was held in Dandupur village in Meerut followed by another in Khatauli in Muzaffarnagar on 27 July.
"Similar conventions will be organsied in Shamli on August 2 and in Meerut's Panchli Bujurg on 8 August," Raj Kumar Sangwan, RLD's organisational secretary said.
The Jats, 2 percent of the population of the state are concentrated in the 25 districts of the western UP spread across 136 assembly constituencies in the state. They play an influential role in 55 of these assembly seats and, if combined, with the population of Muslims (19 percent of the population of the state more than 35 percent in 8 west UP districts) in these seats – a formidable vote bank comes into the picture.
However, BJP destroyed the electoral calculus of RLD and tore into the latter's vote bank. BJP secured 77 percent of the Jat votes in its favour in 2014 which rose to a whopping 91% in 2019.
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