Poll Arithmetic Not the Only Reason Why SP and BSP Left Kairana for Ajit Singh's RLD

New Delhi: On an April morning this year, a close aide of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Ajit Singh called up a Samajwadi Party leader from Kairana. He was curious to know if the SP leader had been given a go-ahead by his party president Akhilesh Yadav to contest the Kairana Lok Sabha by-elections.

The by-elections were necessitated by the death of BJP MP Hukum Singh on February 3 this year.

“My party thinks elections are not being called anytime soon,” the SP leader replied, attempting to skirt the query. 

Fighting for political survival in western UP, the anxiety within the RLD camp was palpable. Kairana was the last straw as the party was desperately clinging on to remain relevant in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. 

When the Kairana by-election date was finally announced, the Samajwadi Party, riding high on its victories in Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls, contemplated fielding its own candidates with support from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). 

In the polarised polity of western Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party at one point gave serious thought to fielding a Hindu candidate — Jat, Gujjar or a candidate from the backward Kashyap community. It was argued that Muslims, who make up a third of the electorate in Kairana, would top up to provide a winning combination. 

The Samajwadi Party, however, eventually left the seat for the RLD to avoid a clash at the ballot with Ajit Singh’s party, which would have led to division of votes. 

It wasn't just pure arithmetic at work. The caste calculus in selecting a candidate acceptable outside the core vote base seems to have worked for the alliance. As in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the BSP-SP combine fielded non-Jatav, non-Yadav candidate to expand their social catchment area to top up their core caste votes.

The Samajwadi Party also wanted to hedge its stunning victories in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, the Lok Sabha seats that were vacated by Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath and deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya. In case the alliance suffered a loss in Kairana, the onus could always be placed on the RLD.

The bypoll was also a test of what Ajit Singh could bring to the table if the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) continued for 2019 general elections. 

Most importantly, by fielding a Muslim candidate from a Jat party, the alliance tried to paper over the cracks between the two communities that had surfaced after large-scale communal riots in the region ahead of the 2014 general elections.

Jats, Jatavs and Muslims are numerically dominant in a dozen odd Lok Sabha seats in western UP. The Congress is influential in some pockets of Saharanpur and Aligarh.

If the Kairana bypoll was a teaser, the 2019 mega election promises to be an interesting contest. For now, Ajit Singh has survived yet again to fight another battle.


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