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The fourth factor in UP poll

Arati R Jerath |

The emergence of Ajit Singh and his RLD as the fourth factor in this year’s UP assembly polls has gone unnoticed in the hype over the SP-Congress tie-up. RLD has always been considered a Jat party that limits itself to contesting in the Jat belt of western UP. But this year, Ajit Singh has moved out of his traditional area and has put up a record 150 candidates in seats stretching across the Yadav belt of central UP to the eastern region of the state including Rae Bareli and Mirzapur.

Just to underline how unprecedented this is, here are some comparative facts. Five years ago, in the last assembly elections, the RLD chief had contested just 40 seats, all in western UP. He won only nine of them and his nominees lost their deposit in 20 constituencies. Ajit Singh was seen as a loser, which is why no party wanted an alliance with him this time although he knocked on every door possible including the BJP’s.

Only one person responded – Akhilesh Yadav’s estranged uncle Shivpal. Political circles believe they struck a deal whereby Ajit Singh is functioning as a front for Shivpal Yadav in these elections. He has taken in all Shivpal loyalists who were denied tickets by Akhilesh and given them the RLD symbol to contest. This is why this time, RLD is being seen in non-Jat areas like eastern UP and Yadav strongholds in Rohailkhand and central UP like Sambhal, Shahjahanpur and Farroukhabad.

SP patriarch Mulayam Singh affirmed the perception of a secret deal between Ajit Singh and Shivpal when he announced that he would campaign for RLD candidates. It is well known in political circles that Mulayam and Ajit Singh dislike each other intensely. Mulayam was a great favourite of Ajit Singh’s father, peasant leader Charan Singh, from whom he learnt his politics. The Mulayam-Ajit rivalry dates back to that era. So Mulayam’s announcement that he would canvass for RLD nominees sent political circles into shock.

Although the SP boss has not hit the campaign trail yet, it is expected that he would go to areas where brother Shivpal’s nominees are contesting on RLD tickets, especially in Yadav strongholds in central UP.

It’s not clear how this is going to affect Akhilesh’s prospects. The infighting in the SP between the chacha and the bhatija is being talked about quite openly in UP. It could damage Akhilesh unless he is able to drum up enough chemistry through a blitzkrieg campaign to generate a wave in his favour. Otherwise it’s advantage Mayawati as the chacha and bhatija battle it out.

Stock rising

With Jats on the warpath against the BJP, Ajit Singh’s stock seems to be rising in western UP. Jats, who had moved lock, stock and barrel to the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as a reaction to the Muzzaffarnagar riots, seem to have rediscovered their beloved Charan Singh’s son.

Suddenly Ajit Singh’s name is being mentioned in Jat areas of Muzzaffarnagar, Shamli, Saharanpur, Meerut and of course Charan Singh’s home turf, Baghpat. Jats speak with passion about the humiliation heaped on Charan Singh and Ajit Singh by the Modi government in New Delhi. They are angry that Modi rejected Ajit Singh’s request to turn the Lutyens’ bungalow in which Charan Singh lived till he died into a memorial for his father. Jats fumed that not only was the memorial proposal turned down, the Modi government threw Ajit Singh’s belongings on the road and turned him out of the bungalow unceremoniously. They said Jats would avenge this humiliation in these elections. The emergence of Ajit Singh as a force in western UP is worrying BJP nominees. One of them is believed to have actually fallen at Ajit Singh’s feet and begged him not to put up a candidate against him to facilitate his victory. It was his first election, the BJP nominee pleaded.

But Ajit Singh is flying high these days. He had already announced a name for that particular constituency and told the BJP candidate that it was too late to withdraw him.

‘Theek hai?’

Congress Rajya Sabha MP and former finance minister P Chidambaram came face-to-face with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time ever just after President Pranab Mukherjee’s customary address to a joint sitting of both Houses on the opening day of the budget.

Chidambaram was standing in Central Hall, where the joint sitting is held, and chatting with former PM Manmohan Singh, and senior Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma when Modi suddenly walked by.

Modi stopped to greet Manmohan Singh and shook hands with his predecessor, Azad and Sharma. Then he turned to Chidambaram and briefly touched his fingers. It was an ever so slight brush of the hands.

It was their first encounter and Modi’s hostility towards Chidambaram is well known. Azad joked that Modi thumped the table so vigorously when the President mentioned the surgical strikes that he was afraid the table would break. Modi mumbled something to the effect that these are things that have to be done.

Before moving away, he looked at Chidambaram and asked, “Theek hai?” Chidambaram nodded and Modi walked on. Much was left unsaid in that brief meeting. Chidambaram’s son Karthi is being investigated by the ED while the former finance minister himself is facing inquiry in the Aircel-Maxis case.