'Heart Won' by Modi, Jayant Singh Inches Closer to Saffron Alliance. What Happens to His Politics?

The grandson of posthumous Bharat Ratna recipient Chaudhary Charan Singh, Jayant did not once deny that he was joining hands with the BJP after repeated and direct questions by journalists.

New Delhi: On a day when the Narendra Modi government announced a Bharat Ratna for former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, the late Jat leader’s grandson Chaudhary Jayant Singh all but confirmed that he was hopping from the INDIA bloc of the opposition to the ruling National Democratic Alliance. Modi has won hearts, Singh stated, in a remarkable shift in political tone after fighting the last four state and general elections against the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Soon after his comments praising Modi, the legislators of his party Rashtriya Lok Dal gathered under the statue of Charan Singh outside the UP Assembly and shouted “Narendra Modi zindabad” and “Bharat Mata ki jai” slogans.

Though Jayant, the president of the RLD, shied away from formally announcing a tie-up with the saffron party for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, there was little left to analyse as he showered praise on Modi and the BJP government. “Koi kasar rehti hain? Aaj mein kiss muh se inkaar karoon aapke sawalon ka (Is there anything left? Today, how can I deny what you have put forth)?,” Jayant asked journalists when asked if his praise of Modi indicated he was formally willing to join hands with the BJP.

A boost on the cards

If the RLD, which has presence in parts of western UP especially among the dominant Jat community near Delhi, does leave the INDIA bloc in Uttar Pradesh, it would provide another boost to the ruling BJP, which already has three small OBC parties as allies in the state, and help it suppress the ongoing demand for Jat reservation in North India even before it takes off ahead of the election.

RLD’s shift to the NDA would be significant, because as recently as January 19, Jayant had shaken hands with Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav to seal a deal for the 2024 election. The RLD was assured seven seats in west UP, a promising deal for the party which failed to win even a single seat in both 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

However, weeks of silence from Jayant following the January 19 compromise kept the rumour mill running on whether he was considering a deal with the BJP instead, as the INDIA bloc had started to fall apart.

Dil jeet liya,” Jayant posted on X, as he thanked Modi for announcing the decision to confer Bharat Ratna on Chaudhary Charan Singh, who also served as chief minister of UP twice.

Jayant did not once deny that he was joining hands with the BJP despite repeated and direct questions by journalists. “Talking about terms, seats or elections will make this day less important. Such things don’t happen every day,” said Jayant, when asked by reporters if he was joining hands with the BJP on the saffron party’s terms.

“Today I am congratulating [Modi] and PM Modi has taken a decision which proves that he understands the basic sentiments and character of the nation. Modi ji has today won the heart of every follower of Chaudhary Charan Singh,” he added.

‘New Bharat’

The Modi government’s Bharat Ratna for Charan Singh, an icon for farmers in west UP especially the Jat community, who are spread in several other states like Haryana and Rajasthan, is seen as an attempt to woo the dominant agrarian communities ahead of the elections. It also serves the purpose of raking up the periods of anti-Congress past of these communities.

Singh said Modi had “fulfilled the dream of Chaudhary Ajit Singh,” his late father who, incidentally, had allied with the BJP in the past on more than one occasion. The 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal violence and the 2014 Lok Sabha election that followed it, drastically changed the game in west UP, scripting the downfall of the RLD and the sudden and steep rise of the BJP as the dominant force in the region.

While praising Modi for the Bharat Ratna for Charan Singh, Jayant also spoke a new language, using phrases one often hears from leaders of the ruling party. He said no other government in the past could honour Charan Singh with a Bharat Ratna but it had become possible in a “fearless” manner due to “Modi’s vision,” “sense of commitment” and “efforts.” It would be remembered by generations to come, he said.

Earlier, only a limited number of people in the mainstream took decisions, added Jayant, in an apparent dig at previous Congress governments over the delay in conferring the honours on Charan Singh. “In New Bharat, things are changing,” he said.

Poll calculations

Amid speculation that the BJP had made an offer of some seats to the RLD in west UP, in addition to a ministerial berth or Rajya Sabha seat, PM Modi on Friday announced that Charan Singh was being conferred with the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in the country. Modi hailed Charan Singh for his role in “nation building” and dedicating his life to the rights and welfare of farmers, as well as his “commitment to democracy,” during the Emergency.

The RLD has nine MLAs in UP including two from the Muslim community. In 2022, the party made an immense gain in seat and vote share as it fought the election in an alliance with the SP. In the coming days, if Jayant does make the big jump to NDA, he is bound to face some uncomfortable questions as he has for the past few years been a vocal critic of the Modi-led BJP and often accused it of fanning communal politics and working against the interest of the farmers. Jayant had opposed the Union government’s Agniveer scheme, criticised the state government run by the BJP for not providing sugarcane farmers with the right minimum support price and mobilised Jats and Muslims to build a brotherhood against the BJP’s attempts to communally divide and polarise them.

However, he already seems to be prepared with a narrative. When asked by journalists if he would continue to oppose the government and join the upcoming farmers protests, Jayant turned diplomatic. He said no government could provide a “permanent solution” to grievances of people and that it would always include “continuous efforts.”

The “sentiment, dedication and will power” that the Modi government displayed towards the rural and working-class people by conferring Charan Singh with Bharat Ratna provided courage to these people to believe that the issues raised by Charan Singh would also be heard, said Jayant.

Old comments, new politics

The RLD chief might also have to encounter uncomfortable questions about a statement he had made in the heat of the 2022 UP assembly election, when he had rejected an offer by the BJP to join the saffron alliance. “We are not a chavanni who will change,” Jayant had said in Muzaffarnagar, while asking people to vote for the SP-RLD combine against the BJP. A ‘chavanni’ is a 25 paise coin, but it is also a derogatory way to say that something is valueless.

When journalists pointed this out to him on Friday, Jayant said he would not delete any of his old tweets. He said whenever he said something, it was based on his conviction during that moment. On January 19, soon after the RLD and the SP confirmed a tie-up for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, Jayant had posted on X that the alliance was “always ready to protect national and constitutional values.”

When SP chief Yadav was asked by reporters in Lucknow if he had spoken to Jayant, he said there had been no recent talks between the two.

Speaking in the UP assembly, however, Yadav congratulated all farmers for the Bharat Ratna to Charan Singh. Yadav also pointed out that it was his father Mulayam Singh Yadav who had installed a statue of Charan Singh in front of the UP assembly.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the RLD contested three seats as part of the Mahagathbandhan including the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party. But it lost all three seats. While Jayant lost in Baghpat, his father Ajit Singh too failed in Muzaffarnagar.

The RLD’s shift to the saffron alliance will definitely change the social equations in the region as the party banks heavily on the support of Jats and Muslims. The minority community is unlikely to maintain its support to the RLD in case it contests in a pre-poll with the BJP. In West UP, especially in pockets where the RLD is strong, Muslims are a substantial voting segment, much above the state average of 20%.

What this means is that while it opens doors for the BSP to attract Muslim voters on some seats, it also makes the SP and Congress the main Opposition bloc in the state which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. The Congress could get a better share in its seat-sharing deal with the SP which has so far only confirmed 11 seats for the grand old party as part of the alliance.

For the BJP, the entry of the RLD would ensure a higher possibility of Hindu consolidation in west UP, where it was already strong and secured votes on average above 50% in the last Lok Sabha.

The RLD’s shift would also have immediate repercussions on the Rajya Sabha elections as the party has nine MLAs and could spoil the arithmetic for the SP. With 108 seats, the SP would have no formal allies left in the UP Assembly. The Om Prakash Rajbhar-led Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party already exited the SP-led alliance and joined the BJP.

The saffron party has three OBC allies in East UP – the SBSP, Nishad Party and Apna Dal (Soneylal). With the entry of the RLD, it would gain a strong regional partner in west UP.

The RLD has four MLA seats in Muzaffarnagar, two in Shamli, one each in Meerut, Hathras and Baghpat.

Jayant Singh is its sole Rajya Sabha member. More clarity is expected on the RLD’s future on February 12, the birth anniversary of Ajit Singh.