Lucknow, Sept. 10: Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader and civil aviation minister Ajit Singh is staring at the diminishing returns of opportunistic alliance-hopping as sectarian fires run across his west Uttar Pradesh pocket borough.
His base already shrunken over the years, Ajit may now be struggling to keep Jats and Muslims — the chief combatants in the ongoing violence — united as a combine that delivered him political success.
Time was when his father and short-term Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh held near-unshakeable sway over the prosperous sugar belt with eloquent espousal of the kulak, or middle-peasant, causes and crafty social networking. He led an alliance through the 1980s that in those days was referred to as “Majgar”, an invincible coalescing of Muslims, Ahirs, Jats, Gujjars and Rajputs.
It was on Majgar’s spine that Charan Singh was able to retain his Baghpat seat in the pro-Congress blizzard of 1984, one of a handful of Opposition leaders to be returned from Uttar Pradesh.
Ajit, a Minneapolis-trained computer engineer, inherited his father’s mantle upon Charan Singh’s death in mid-1987, but has forever struggled to keep his rich political legacy, much less enrich it.
In the years since Ajit took over, the Lok Dal of Charan Singh has split several times over. Ajit himself has run the whole political spectrum seeking alliances that would keep him afloat; he has, in the past, partnered and broken with every major political formation in Uttar Pradesh, including the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Through this time, he was able to maintain his toehold in west Uttar Pradesh, although the old empire built by his father had substantially shrunk.
But when he dallied with the BJP on the eve of the 2009 elections and joined the NDA, the ‘M’ immediately fell off his alliance and what remained was an emaciated “Ajgar”, a classification of Ahirs, Jats, Gujjars and Rajputs minus the Muslims.
Following the NDA’s defeat, Ajit switched sides again and struck a deal with the Congress on the eve of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections of 2012. He got a cabinet berth at the Centre in the bargain but, by then, he had left his home constituency confounded by his frequent side-switching.
The latest round of turmoil, probably the worst in the region for violence has spread to rural areas, may well rip the Chaudhary clan’s winner acronyms — Majgar and Ajgar — down the middle, for it is the Jats, the core of the alliance, who are threatening to desert Ajit. The Ajgar may lose its bite.
With rioting having torn social unity, the RLD faces a stiff challenge in retaining its political hold in its backyard in the run-up to 2014. The RLD’s Uttar Pradesh secretary, Munna Singh Chauhan, admits this divide although he hopes his party will be able to restore confidence among the minorities once the fires have been doused.
The RLD’s stakes are high; it had won five of the 19 Lok Sabha seats from west Uttar Pradesh in the 2009 elections and was looking to improve its tally in alliance with the Congress.
The party’s sitting MPs — Ajit (Baghpat), his son Jayant Singh (Mathura), Sanjay Chauhan (Bijnore), Devendra Nagpal (Amroha) and Sarika Baghel (Hathras) — are bound to face adverse winds lifting off the current violence.
“The assessment looks relevant right now. We never had a history of communal riots in this region. But the perception of Muslims about the Jats may change after we work to restore their faith in communal harmony and move ahead for the future,” said Kawkab Hameed, former Uttar Pradesh minister and RLD leader, from Baghpat.
Baghpat, which adjoins Muzaffarnagar, is on the boil and there have been sporadic skirmishes in the rural areas during the last two days, although no major incident has happened so far, Hameed informed. “However, that mutual trust is gone and the grim fact is there has been sizable exodus from villages to nearby places, some even migrating to neighbouring Haryana,” he added.
The scion of former local royals, Hameed said: “The sad fact about the whole episode in Muzaffarnagar is that the chief minister failed to act on time. There is a difference between the style of functioning of Mulayam Yadav and his son. Akhilesh did not show any urgency of action. The senior Yadav has always been decisive, prompt in action and unwavering in his objective of communal amity.”
But Mulayam, defending his son’s handling of the situation, said today the violence couldn’t be termed “riots” as it was a caste conflict.