Political signals of 1989 redux at Jayant Chaudhary’s Rasam Pagdi at Chhaprauli and Muzaffarnagar Kisan Panchayat
The last two weeks have signalled a shift in the farmers’ movement and the politics of North India, especially that of western UP. The success of the SKM panchayat at Muzaffarnagar on September 5 and the presence of lakhs of people at the homage meeting of former RLD president Chaudhary Ajit Singh and the Rasam Pagdi of incumbent Jayant Chaudhary at Chhaprauli two weeks later on September 19 may be perceived as these signals. Both these events give the impression of 1989 redux.
The last two weeks have signalled a shift in the farmers’ movement and the politics of North India, especially that of western Uttar Pradesh (UP). The success of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) panchayat at Muzaffarnagar on September 5 and the presence of lakhs of people at the homage meeting of Chaudhary Ajit Singh, the former president of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), and the Rasam Pagdi of incumbent Jayant Chaudhary at Chhaprauli two weeks later on September 19 may be perceived as these signals. Both these events give the impression of 1989 redux.
The 1989 Lok Sabha elections and UP Assembly elections had proved to be electorally rewarding for the then Janata Dal (JD), thanks to the political influence of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU). Ajit Singh was then among the tallest JD leaders. And Mahendra Singh Tikait was the president of BKU in its most robust phase.
Jayant Chaudhary holds Chaudhary Ajit Singh’s legacy now. RLD will contest the UP Assembly elections for the first time under the leadership of Jayant Chaudhary after the demise of Ajit Singh. And Naresh Tikait, son of Mahendra Singh Tikait and the leader of Balian Khap, is the BKU president. Also, BKU spokesman Rakesh Tikait has carved out a niche for himself as a towering leader of the ongoing farmers’ movement.
Attended by lakhs of farmers, the SKM panchayat at Muzaffarnagar on September 5, 2021, was a success. It was one of the largest-ever BKU farmer panchayats. Even most of the large political rallies of UP held in recent years fail to match its scale. This has markedly elevated Rakesh Tikait’s stature in SKM. In a way, just as Rakesh Tikait gave the farmers’ movement a fresh lease of life at Ghazipur Border on January 28, 2021, the farmer panchayat at Muzaffarnagar has taken the movement to its next level, which has convinced the farmer organizations and their leadership that it will continue with strength.
The farmers’ movement at the Delhi borders against the three farm laws brought about by the Central government is about to complete 10 months. Even the negotiations between the government and the farmer organizations have come to a halt since January 22, 2021. Due to this, the movement is now heading towards bringing the farmers and the voters together against the BJP. There is no doubt about politics in the movement. It may have been completely apolitical, but the fact is that BJP is at the core of its protests. The leaders of the farmer organizations are now categorically stating that the farmers want to hurt the BJP’s political prospects in the coming Assembly elections in five states. This was made amply clear at the Muzaffarnagar farmer panchayat.
I can once again see a similarity here with 1989. The BKU dharna at the Boat Club in Delhi in October 1988 and its culmination with a rally on October 31, 1988, had sent a message to the people to translate into votes the farmers’ anger against the Congress government led by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. A similar resentment was seen at the Muzaffarnagar panchayat on September 5 and this will have an impact on the farmer vote in the UP elections. The farmer vote has a decisive role to play in UP and no political party can ignore it.
Who stands to gain from this anger is not much of a secret. If it was JD that benefited in 1989, the gainer this time is likely to be RLD, which is considered to be the farmers’ party in western UP. Add to this the decision of all Khap leaders to help Jayant Chaudhary don the mantle at the Rasam Pagdi function on September 19 and the participation therein of all Khap leaders, including BKU president Naresh Tikait, and there is no room for doubt about understanding this arithmetic. Rakesh Tikait has constantly been coming up with statements to the effect that the farmers should hurt the BJP electorally. And Naresh Tikait has constantly been terming the BJP as anti-farmer. Given this scenario, RLD is the natural contender for the farmer votes.
The holding of one panchayat after another has created an atmosphere for the return of the Jat-Muslim alliance in UP. Which is bridging the gap created between the two communities in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar communal riots in 2013. Besides, it is almost decided that there will be an alliance between the RLD and the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP). Top sources in both parties say that RLD will be allotted more seats in western UP in the alliance. There are more than 100 Assembly seats in western UP and the Jat votes are decisive in more than half of these seats. Together with the Muslim votes, these largely constitute the arithmetic that will decide the winner.
The crowd at Chaudhary Ajit Singh’s homage meeting and Jayant Chaudhary’s Rasam Pagdi function at Chhaprauli
The BJP leadership has constantly been making tall claims about development in the state. However, a major BJP leader from Chhaprauli admitted in a conversation with this writer that the BJP is losing ground in western UP. He cited several reasons for this: no increase in the State Advisory Price (SAP) for sugarcane for four years, lack of timely payments for sugarcane, the problem of stray animals, unemployment and inflation. The leader said in no uncertain terms, “Our government has failed on these issues.” And then there comes the fact that the Malakpur sugar mill near Chhaprauli counts among the worst-performing sugar mills of UP in terms of payments. Besides, the sugar mills of Shamli, the home district of Cane Development Minister Suresh Rana, are worst placed on this count.
The emotional connect with Jayant Chaudhary that this writer witnessed among the people — right from children aged seven to eight to old men above 80 — in Chhaprauli, a crucial seat in UP politics since even before Independence, makes it clear why ever since Chaudhary Charan Singh entered the UP Assembly in 1937 via this seat, no party other than his and later Ajit Singh’s has been able to win it. The atmosphere in Chhaprauli today is enough to understand this and there is no need to make any other effort.
The homage meeting on September 19 has signalled that under the leadership of Jayant, the RLD is once again strengthening its prospects to recover its power as the farmers’ party. Issues ranging right from the farmers’ protest against the three central laws and the increasing prices of power and diesel in UP to the problems of stray animals and cane prices are preparing the ground for this.