Lucknow, April 12: Ajit Singh faces the tough job of holding on to his Jat support base when western Uttar Pradesh votes tomorrow.
The Jats can make the difference in at least 40 of the 58 seats that will be up for grabs in the second phase of the Assembly polls. Ajit had inherited this caste vote bank from his father, former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, but his string of opportunistic alliances over the years has turned away many supporters.
One of Ajitís biggest worries will be the array of Jat candidates, including some of his former loyalists, fielded by his rivals. While this makes a division of Jat votes likely, another threat is the new consolidation of Dalit votes, such as the Jatavsí, by Mayavati. The Bahujan Samaj Party won 16 seats from the region in the 2002 Assembly polls, while Ajit and his then ally BJP bagged 11 each.
This time, Ajitís Rashtriya Lok Dal is going it alone after alliance talks broke down with the Congress, its 1999 Lok Sabha poll partner to which Charan Singh was vehemently opposed. In the 2004 parliamentary elections, Ajit had tied up with the ruling Samajwadi Party.
Itís this habit of jumping from one boat to another that has prompted many of his loyalists to leave him. The RLD will be fighting some of them tomorrow.
For instance, in the Jat heartland of Chaprauli in Baghpat, associated with Charan Singh the way Rae Bareli or Amethi are linked to the Gandhis, Ajitís candidate Ajay Tomar is pitted against the BSPís Gajendra Munna, who was RLDís MLA in 1996.
The BJP and Samajwadi Party, too, have fielded Jat candidates from the constituency.
In Barnawa, Samarpal Singh, twice elected on RLD tickets, is the Samajwadi candidate while his closest rival Satyendra Solanki, who has always been opposed to the RLD, is Ajitís candidate. The BSP, too, has fielded a former Ajit loyalist. Such switches of personnel and loyalties have taken the sheen off Ajitís key planks, such as a support price for sugarcane farmers and the demand for a Harit Pradesh state.
Mayavatiís trump cards come from opposite ends of the caste spectrum. She had successfully organised the Dalits ó especially the extremely backward Jatavs ó before the previous polls. This time, she is also wooing the upper castes and has liberally distributed tickets among Brahmins, Thakurs and Kayasthas.
With the BSP chief having scaled down her tirade against the upper castes, she is expected to gain a slice of the Brahmin votes.
The Samajwadi Partyís vaunted Muslim-Yadav axis could be dented by the emergence of the United Democratic Front, formed by the imam of the Delhi Jama Masjid, Ahmad Bukhari. Haji Yaqoob Quereshi, who used to be in Mulayamís ministry, is contesting on a UDF ticket, threatening to split Muslim votes in Meerut.
Mulayam, however, is trying to convince Jat voters that he is the true political heir to Charan Singh, a line that should worry Ajit.
The BJP is eyeing a vote bank that overlaps with Mayavatiís ó Brahmins, Thakurs and non-Jatav Dalits. What the Jatavs have done for the BSP the BJP hopes the Lodhs will do for it.
The Lodhs, like Jatavs, are one of the most backward castes even among the Dalits. Former chief minister Kalyan Singh is from this caste and his son is contesting from Debai, a constituency that has returned Lodh candidates almost every time since 1957.
The Congress will be hoping that the alliance with Bahujan Kisan Dal, the political wing of Mahendra Singh Tikaitís Bharatiya Kisan Dal, brings in a few seats.