The mad scramble has begun. In the run-up to the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the battle between the two second-generation Jat chieftains—Rashtriya Lok Dal (rld) leader Ajit Singh and Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala—is getting fiercer by the day. The battleground is western UP and the booty up for grabs the crucial Jat vote. Things have now taken a curious turn with Chautala throwing a challenge to Ajit Singh on the latter's home turf by announcing that he will field candidates for the March 2002 election.
With neither leader having any genuine plank to counter the other, both are going all out in raking up the same issue—a separate state comprising the 22 districts of western UP. In a desperate attempt to sound original, both Jat leaders have different names for the proposed state. While Ajit Singh has declared that the fight for a separate Harit Pradesh tops his political agenda, Chautala has asked his supporters to begin a struggle in right earnest for a separate Kisan Pradesh. Whatever their relative merits, it poses a huge dilemma for the bjp, which has been pretty ambiguous on the idea of a separate 'Jatland' till now.
The 100-odd assembly seats of western UP, where Jat voters are either in majority or are in a position to tilt the electoral balance, have become very crucial for the bjp. With hopes of regaining power in UP almost lost, the bjp's only ray of hope is an alliance with the rld. According to the calculations of bjp strategists, such an alliance will add to the party's tally. But Chautala's proactive presence in western UP could mar such hopes. The bjp's problem is that it cannot afford to antagonise either. Chautala's support to the nda at the Centre is crucial because his Indian National Lok Dal (inld) has five MPs in the Lok Sabha. Moreover, the bjp has to take a stand on the issue of a further division of UP. While chief minister Rajnath Singh has indicated that he is open to the idea, officially party leaders have shied away from endorsing it, wary of opening up a Pandora's box.
Observers feel Chautala's proactiveness may be part of a well-thought-out plan. They also say the bjp may be using Chautala to counterbalance Ajit Singh's ever-increasing demand for tickets. The bjp leadership feels that with just two MPs in the Lok Sabha, Ajit Singh doesn't enjoy much clout, and a cabinet berth should be enough to placate him. Ajit Singh has already expressed his eagerness to have such a deal with the bjp. At his recent meetings, the Jat leader has elaborated on how his father (Chaudhary Charan Singh) had entered into an alliance with the Jana Sangh and later the bjp.
With no significant issues in hand, Ajit Singh and Chautala, both of whom like to stake claim to Charan Singh's legacy, have become bitterly personal in their attacks. In a series of rallies held in different districts of western UP last fortnight, the two leaders have attacked each other with the choicest of invectives. While Ajit Singh calls Chautala an outsider, Chautala holds Ajit Singh responsible for the degeneration of his own father's legacy. An interesting parallel of this verbal war can only be found in bsp leader Mayawati's diatribe against Ramvilas Paswan, who has of late been trying to eat into UP's Dalit votebank.
In western UP, the current emphasis is on organising massive rallies and ensuring positive coverage in local newspapers. Despite a relatively thin mass base in the region, Chautala seems to have scored several brownie points over Ajit Singh, particularly on the publicity front. He has already given the rld supremo sleepless nights by organising four rallies in Niloha (Meerut), Kosi (Mathura), Muzaffarnagar and Bulandshahr. Ajit Singh, however, is dismissive of these rallies. He insists that when a leader of Chaudhary Devi Lal's stature failed to strike roots in western UP, Chautala does not stand a chance. His supporters allege that Chautala is misusing the Haryana administration to ensure a large turnout at his rallies in Ajit Singh territory.
The fight between the two Jat leaders does not augur well for a beleaguered bjp in UP. As the rivalry turns bitter, the fear is that Jat votes might split. The bjp had pinned a lot of hope on its possible alliance with Ajit Singh. But, for now, Chautala seems determined to spoil the party.
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