Caste combinations hold the key in the high profile Muzaffarnagar Lok Sabha seat, where Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh is in the fray against the BJP’s Sanjeev Baliyan. In 2014, riding high on the Narendra Modi wave, Baliyan had won the seat by a handsome margin of around 4 lakh votes. But this time, the grand alliance of SP-BSP-RLD and the presence of Ajit Singh, the tallest Jat leader in Western Uttar Pradesh, has made the task formidable for him.

“The combination of Muslims and Jatavs, BSP supremo Mayawati’s caste, has already crossed the halfway mark. Apart from this almost 90 per cent of Jats will support Choudhary sahab (Ajit Singh) while BJP’s support will come from Baliyan Khap,” said Yaspal Malik, president of Jat Arakhshan Sangharsh Samiti.

He added: “Due to the influence of SP leader Atul Pradhan, Gurjars will also vote for Ajit Singh.”

However, Jaiveer Singh, a Gurjar, contested his view and said: “We have told Atul Pradhan that this time you are not fighting election so Gurjars will vote for BJP and no one is going to vote for Ajit Singh.”

Atul Pradhan is a Gurjar leader who has considerable influence over the community in Sardhana Assembly segment. BJP firebrand leader Sangeet Som is an MLA from Sardhana.

In western UP, delay in payment of sugarcane dues has been a big issue but on the ground farmers have divided opinions.

KP Singh, a Rajput farmer, said: “The issue of payments has been created by media and supporters of the alliance. The payments now are better than during any previous government. We have received the payment till February.”

Tansen Choudhary, an advocate, said: “BJP has done nothing for farmers. It was Choudhary sahab (Ajit Singh) who did a lot of work for farmers during his tenure as a minister. This time, we can’t even think about his defeat.” He said Modi was born after Independence but he behaved as if he did everything.

His nephew Dr Devendra Chaudhary, an assistant professor in CCU University, however, termed Ajit Singh an outsider, leading to an altercation between them. Dr Devendra Chaudhary said: “Sanjeev Baliyan did so much development work in Muzaffarnagar. He is easily accessible and also a Jat while Ajit Singh did nothing in Baghpat as he lives in a Lutyen’s bungalow.”

As many as 10 candidates are in the fray from the Muzaffarnagar Lok Sabha seat. The BJP and RLD are locked in a direct fight as the Congress has not fielded any candidate here. The BJP, which was earlier banking on division of Opposition votes, is now facing a tough situation. Muslims, Jatavs and a large faction of Jats are consolidated behind the RLD while other castes are rallying behind the BJP.