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Will Jayant Chaudhary emerge as kingmaker of UP?

Last updated on: March 02, 2012 14:22 IST

Neerja ChowdhuryUnion Minister Ajit Singh's 33-year-old son Jayant Chaudhary could emerge as a candidate for the deputy chief ministership, says .

The 2012 Uttar Pradesh election about to come to a close is significant for many reasons. It will determine the stability of the United Progressive Alliance government in the months to come, it will decide the kind of "larger" role that Rahul Gandhi will play, and it will have a bearing on who sits in the Rashtrapati Bhavan this July.

For the first time, the poll outcome hinges on the 1.49 crore new voters, who have no memory of Mandal or Kamandal politics that has dominated Uttar Pradesh for the last two decades, and despite claims, no party is really able to decipher how they are voting.

UP 2012 has also brought to the fore Gen X leaders as never before -- Rahul Gandhi leading from the front in the Congress, Akhilesh Yadav emerging as the new power centre in the Samajwadi Party, Uma Bharati introducing the OBC factor once again in the Bharatiya Janata Party, and Jayant Chaudhary giving a more inclusive look to the Rashtriya Lok Dal.

Jayant campaigned in around 40 out of the 68 assembly seats which went to the polls on February 28 in western UP, putting to test the RLD-Congress alliance.

Most politicians move upwards, from assembly to Parliament. But Jayant Chaudhary, MP from Mathura and son of Ajit Singh and grandson of former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, decided to do the opposite. Curiously, he decided to contest from Mant, one of the assembly segments in his parliamentary constituency.

If there was one thing which pointed to a possible post-poll scenario that might emerge in UP, it was this decision of Jayant Chaudhary. The calculation must have been that if the Samajwadi Party forms a government in Lucknow, with the help of the Congress and the RLD, as was being widely speculated, Jayant would get an important position in it. In all probability, he would, then, also lead his party's legislature wing, thereby emerging as the number two in the party after his father, and moving a step closer to succession.

From all accounts, the RLD is doing reasonably well and is expected to notch up 17-18 seats. And clearly the scion of the Chaudhary clan feels that he would prefer to play a role in Lucknow, rather than remain in Delhi -- unless of course his party is not part of the new government or he is not given a role in it. In which case, he would continue as MP.

Though the RLD has joined the UPA, Jayant is not likely to be given a government responsibility at the Centre, as his father Ajit Singh has been appointed civil aviation minister. Given other uncertainties and the RLD's 5 MPs in the Lok Sabha, the Congress is not likely to make a fuss about continuing with Ajit Singh, even if the RLD joins hands with the SP in Lucknow and the Congress stays away from the coalition.

If the Samajwadi party gets upwards of 160 seats, it will try and form government with the RLD, smaller parties and the independents. In such a scenario, the buzz is that Jayant Chaudhary may even become a contender for deputy chief ministership. In such a scenario, he would become even more of a direct player in UP government than either Rahul Gandhi or Akhilesh Yadav, who have been main campaigners for their respective parties.

The London School of Economics-educated, 33-year-old Jayant has what he calls a good 'working relationship' with Rahul, who he has got to know well during the UP campaign, when they have addressed rallies together.

On the other hand, though he has a 'cordial' relationship with Akhilesh Yadav, it is "not a working relationship", though he had "campaigned for Akhilesh's wife in 2009 in Firozabad".

Jayant's election is also being watched carefully for another reason. To what extent have the Jats -- who form the backbone of the RLD support -- accepted him? There are indications that Jats see in him 'a reflection of Chaudhary sahib' (Charan Singh), and they have received him with open arms. .

But, the more important issue is how have other communities responded to him? When some reports said he was facing a tough contest in Mant, they were basing their assessment on the anti-Jats polarising against the Jats.

To form a rainbow coalition of the Jats, OBCs and Muslims in the Ganga belt was the secret of Charan Singh's success and the basis of his politics. Jayant says he wants to model his politics on his grandfather's, and would like to work to create this "new politics" when "I can stand from Ghazipur, where there are no Jats, and win".

Excerpts from an interview with him, done as he flew from Mathura to Dharaura to address a meeting.

How did you decide to stand for an assembly when you are already a parliamentarian and won the Lok Sabha last time?

It is not necessarily a step down. In a federal structure like ours, the states have an important role to play. If you look at UP, it needs a new direction. I also felt that if I stood, it would give an aggressive message to our workers. The last time our party had won from Mant was in 1985 (Jayant is contesting against the five time MP Shyam Sundar Sharma), though I had a lead of 35,000 votes here, during my (2009) parliamentary election.

You belong to a Jat family and they look upon you favourably. But what kind of politics are you trying fashion?

I am not making it a Jat vs others election. Chaudhary sahib was not Jat leader. When I invoke Chaudhary sahib's name, it has an appeal for everyone, not just the Jats. I would like to create a bridge between communities, and work towards creating a politics where I can take up the challenge of contesting from Ghazipur, where there are no Jats.

Chaudhary sahib was for inter caste marriages. He wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru about it. When I spoke about this -- my wife is a Punjabi -- I got a lot of letters of support. But there were also some Khap leaders who said I had done wrong. These changes will take time, but these are the changes we should work for, not just to build our political image.

What do you see as the significance of these elections?

It will mark a shift from the arrogance of politics of a majority Bahujan Samaj Party rule to a sensitive coalition.

So your see a coalition emerging?

At this point, I am only seeing a Congress-RLD coalition.

If you win, would you be MLA or choose to remain MP?
If we win and am given a role, I would most definitely shift to Lucknow.

Why did you enter politics, was it your own decision or was it thrust upon you by the family?

It was a self-motivated move. I don't think politics is about self gratification or about glamour or being written about. You have to give a lot to the public... I am moved by economic deprivation. There has been a deficit in our governance. We have limited resources, and our governments have not had a clear vision on how to have sustainable development which percolates down. That is policy challenge I would like to grapple with, if given a chance.

What is the difference between this election and the one in 2007?
Perhaps there is a greater anti-incumbency against Mayawati this time than in 2009, or against Mulayam Singh Yadav in 2007.

Do you see this UP election spawning new social equations?
Mayawati's sarvajan slogan and bhaichara committees, while, they made an effective political coalition at the grassroots, produced no change of attitudes. It has not worked. Now there is a shift by the upper castes. And the backwards and (a section of) Dalits are asking for their share, particularly the 'ati-pichda' and 'Mahadalits'. For the first time the Congress has promised a reservation within the 27 percent reservation. There will be a clear shift in favour of our alliance.

What is your relationship like with Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, for you all belong to the new generation of leaders?

With Akhilesh Yadav, there is cordiality in our relationship. Beyond that there is no working relationship, despite the fact that I went to campaign for his wife in Firozabad.

With Rahul Gandhi, I have been getting closer to him through the campaign. There is a divergence in the public image of him -- of being diffidence in style -- and the real him. We are now seeing an aggressive campaign by him. He is asking the right questions. I have a working relationship with him.

Neerja Chowdhury