UP: Is a Modi–Yogi rift at the root of the Rajputs' upset, the Jats' dilemma?

As western Uttar Pradesh gears up for the polls, could the Prime Minister's beef with chief minister Adityanath cost the BJP the Rajput votes?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath at a function in Lucknow on 19 February 2024 (photo: Getty Images)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath at a function in Lucknow on 19 February 2024 (photo: Getty Images)

Rashme Sehgal

The powerful Rajputs are an incensed lot today. They believe the BJP is deliberately undermining them and, even worse, trying to edge them out of power. The fact that the party has denied Rajput leaders Lok Sabha tickets in western Uttar Pradesh, from Ghaziabad right up to Saharanpur, has reinforced this belief.

That Prime Minister Narendra Modi cold-shouldered UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath—even as he shook hands with others on the dais—while kickstarting his parliamentary campaign in Meerut has not gone unnoticed. The Rajputs, we hear, see this as a direct insult to the most prominent member of their community.

The recent comments of veteran BJP leader Parshottam Rupala, the BJP’s candidate from Rajkot in Gujarat, who is known to be close to Prime Minister Modi, are being seen as more evidence of a deliberate attempt to belittle the Rajputs.

Rupala had the community up in arms when he said that Rajput rulers had collaborated with the British and were not averse to using their women in “inappropriate ways”. The community, which places its honour above everything, was so shocked that a Kshatriya BJP leader, Raj Shekhawat, resigned from the party on the spot.

The humiliated Rajputs organised a mahapanchayat in Nanauta, in Saharanpur district, on 7 April, held under the Kshatriya Swabhimaan Mahakumbh banner, to salvage their pride. Not just UP, members from as far afield as Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttarakhand gathered. It was claimed at the gathering that 80 of the Rajput brethren had been denied tickets across these states.

A full day of deliberations was followed by a clarion call to fight the BJP tooth and nail. The Rajputs would put up their own candidates independently for several seats and would lend their support to the Opposition for the rest.

Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar are two of the constituencies where Rajput candidates stand as Independents, in open defiance of the BJP. But will the entire community be willing to adopt this anti-BJP stance?

The candidate from Ghaziabad is Nand Kishore, while Rajinder Solanki stands from Gautam Buddh Nagar. Their candidacy was announced late, the BJP already having launched a strong campaign here and Modi having led a road show in Ghaziabad last week. But the 6 lakh-strong Rajput community in Ghaziabad are in a confrontational mood. They are determined to up the ante against the Modi government that overlooked the Rajputs to give a ticket to Atul Kumar Garg, of the Baniya community.

The Ghaziabad Lok Sabha seat has five Assembly constituencies—Loni, Muradnagar, Sahibabad, Ghaziabad and Dholana.

Sudhir Pandhir, a resident of Ghaziabad, says, “Garg’s track record as an MLA is extremely poor. He is very wealthy and runs several educational institutions, but he has not worked towards improving the government-run institutions. An MLA for the past five years, he has not attended to the grievances of the residents.’’

Prior to the Nanauta meeting, the Rajput community gathered for a mahapanchayat in Chaubisi to express their unhappiness at Gen. V.K. Singh (retd) having been denied a ticket. Chaubisi is part of the Ghaziabad constituency. The BJP leadership has chosen to deliberately break with the tradition of giving this seat to another Rajput leader, despite the constituency sending up a winning Rajput candidate for the last two decades.

A Rajput teacher in a private school who did not wish to be named said, “We all know why our community is being marginalised. Modi wants to clip the wings of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who is a Thakur. Yogi is popular and that is his undoing. Modi sees him as a threat and so wants to weaken us as a whole so that no alternative power centre can emerge within the party.”

The public at large, including the majority of Rajputs in and around Ghaziabad, seem to have no beef with Gen. V.K. Singh being denied a third term in Parliament, however.

“He (Gen. Singh) never visited his constituency to partake in our sukh-dukh (joys or sorrows). We would invite him and, despite being so close to Delhi, he made no attempt to visit us. If we took a delegation to his official residence or office, he did not care to interact with us and has done little work for this constituency,” says Ganga Singh, a small farmer living in the outskirts of this city.

It’s only what his rejection means as a token insult to the Rajputs that has their backs up.

The present defence minister, Rajnath Singh, who has completed two parliamentary terms from Ghaziabad, is spoken of with much more respect. Even so, residents of the city with a population of some 6–7 lakh— squeezed between Modinagar to the north, Bulandshahr to the west and Delhi to its east—continue to be deprived of basic facilities, the most significant being the lack of a state-of-the-art government hospital. That’s what they would vote for.

Avinash Chauhan, a salesman from semi-urban Sahibabad, also complains of the non-existent medical facilities in his town. “Despite having such luminaries as our MPs, we have no good government hospital to date,” says Chauhan, “and the private hospitals are unaffordable. The public has no choice but to rush the patient to a government hospital in Delhi in case of an emergency. At least there they get proper treatment free of cost.”

Chauhan works as a shop assistant in a hardware shop owned by a Jat businessman, Mahesh Chaudhary. Chaudhary’s comment on the current political scenario: “We Jats have been traditionally opposed to the BJP. But our leader Jayant Chaudhary has switched over to the BJP and so we will vote for the saffron party now.”

Does he support Jayant Singh’s switchover, then? Chaudhary is silent for a while before saying, “He is following in his father’s footsteps. Everyone has to survive. I supposed he had no choice.”

But at Nanauta, there was strong opposition to the Jats being favoured in seat allocations across western UP, even in constituencies where they did not historically have a strong presence. Will this cause a blowback?

According to Pushpendra Rana, an anthropology scholar from Barkatullah University, the Ghaziabad constituency has about 5.5 lakh Muslims, 5.7 lakh Rajputs, 4.5 lakh Brahmins, 2.5 lakh Baniyas, 4.5 lakh Scheduled Caste citizens, 1.25 lakh Jats, 1 lakh Punjabis, 75,000 Tyagis, 70,000 Gurjars, and 5 lakh other voters. Rana expresses surprise that despite it being a Rajput citadel for many decades, the BJP has decided to field a Baniya candidate here.

Even local BJP leaders seem to be taken by surprise. They thought Ghaziabad was a safe seat, in the bag already, as it were! In the 2014 election, Gen V.K. Singh had secured a historic 7,58,482 votes and defeated the Congress’ Raj Babbar by a margin of over 5.67 lakh votes. In 2019 again, the General defeated Suresh Bansal of the Samajwadi Party by a margin of over 5.1 lakh votes.

One prominent BJP leader, however, dismissed the purported communal tensions: “These mahapanchayats are being organised at the behest of Yogi Adityanath. He wants to undermine Modi’s leadership.”

But the Rajput community’s hurt pride seems palpable: “They came to power invoking the names of our leaders, including Prithviraj Chauhan. They seem to forget that Lord Ram was born in a Kshatriya family. Now they want to sideline us completely.”

Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar and Meerut are going to polls on 26 April; Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar and a few others will be done by 19 April. The next Rajput mahapanchayat is scheduled for 16 April in Khera village in Sardhana, which falls under Muzaffarnagar Lok Sabha seat.

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Published: 12 Apr 2024, 3:49 PM