Ever since the farmer protests, the Jats have been dominating the national narrative, one way or the other. And the vote in Uttar Pradesh will also be kicked off by the Jat-dominated belt in western UP. The one party that has won the confidence of the agitating farmers is the RLD, and its chief Chaudhary Jayant Singh attended a few RLD rallies recently, mixing with the green RLD caps (that are also the Samyukt Kisaan Morcha headgear). In addition, one can also see the odd Samajwadi party red topis.
Chatting with the locals in the Jewar-Iglas-Raya-Mathura-Aligarh belt, along the Yamuna Expressway, one came up with some takeaways of the mood on the ground. For starters, Jayant has built himself a sizeable following. This may or may not translate into votes but since he was campaigning along the same route, we were regularly updated about his whereabouts, about where all Chaudhary Sahib ka kafila (carvan) had travelled.
Moreover, everyone has a smartphone and they watch YouTube much more than the mainstream media. They’ve lost faith in the government dictated handouts aired on TV and have their own list of what they label as ‹godi media› channels. In fact, this was a move kicked off by Tikait and co during the farmers’ protests, if you recall. Second, for the locals on the ground, issues of jobs and prices are much more important than the temple narrative. They will tell you how the GST on tractors is 28 percent as compared to tax on other items «used by the mantris”. They are also well versed with the intricate details of the Pegasus scam and will enlighten you with all the details, along with the price of ganna & the price of aloos. (At a haat nearby aloos were selling at Rs 3 per kg and Carrots at Rs 15. Compare these to the rates in Noida just two hours away).
Discussing Pegasus and the right to privacy over some very sweet tea, sitting on red plastic chairs was not the only surprise. The biggest takeaway was when I asked them whom they saw as a viable alternative to take on Narendra Modi. The answer was an unambiguous Rahul Gandhi. It’s the BJP who made him a Pappu, said one, but so far whatever he has been saying has come correct, be it about Pegasus, farmers bills, China or Covid-19. [Infact the BJP came in for some additional criticism for its handling of the pandemic with one of the locals commenting that “unhone (BJP) covid ko bhi hindu muslim bana diya” [They (BJP) have even communalized the Covid-19]. They were clear that in the national election the vote would go to Congress while in the state polls they would support anyone who can beat the BJP. And then of course there is the impeccable Jat logic that though Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was doing a good job and Sonia Gandhi was right in promoting Rahul over her because he is the son. As one person among the crowd explained very matter of factly, «that’s the way it is in our society». Well, take that comment for what its worth is, but it may be reassuring to Congress which is by now used to receiving flak from its voters.
Interestingly I had interviewed Congress party’s star campaigner, Sachin Pilot last week for NewsX and when I asked him about the party’s unwinnability on the ground he shot back with «Look the BJP has won two elections, 2014 & 2019. But don›t forget even Congress won two elections in 2004 and 2009. So don›t write us off so soon.»
Well, that was one vignette from the ground— one thread of the many narratives that make our elections so colourful and interesting.