Even though the Jats, who form RLD's core constituency, comprise just 2.6% of the electorate in UP, they are present in significant numbers in the 15 districts that go on to constitute western UP. Being the dominant caste of the region, they have over the decades played a crucial role in shaping its polity.
In the post-Mandal-Masjid era, barring a short period in which they had switched their allegiance to BJP, the Jats have remained by and large loyal to RLD.
Former prime minister Charan Singh, Union civil aviation minister Ajit Singh's father, is still revered by them.
Jats add up to around 6% of the vote-base in western UP, but have the potential to swing the electoral outcome in quite a few assembly seats in the districts of Bijnor, Jyotiba Phule Nagar, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Mathura, Agra and Aligarh. In 2007 assembly polls, RLD won 10 assembly seats, securing 5.76% votes in the seats that it contested.
Entering the 2009 general election fray in alliance with BJP, RLD put up an impressive show, emerging victorious in five Lok Sabha constituencies. These included Baghpat, Mathura, Bijnor, Hathras and Amroha.
The RLD leader has now joined hands with Congress, and is confident of a much improved performance by the alliance. What gives him this confidence is the prospect of the Jats entering into a social alliance with the Muslims, who constitute a quarter of the electorate in the region, boosting the chances of the Congress-RLD alliance.
"As the Samajwadi Party does not have much of presence in the region, the RLD-Congress offers the best secular alternative to the Muslims," argued an RLD leader, who did not wish to be quoted.
Indeed, the minority community wields a lot of clout in quite a few assembly segments. In as many as 60 of the 94 seats falling in western UP, they account for more than 15% of the vote-base. In constituencies such as Rampur, Amroha and Sambhal, Muslims add up to over 60% of the electorate.
While the leaders of the RLD-Congress alliance are banking on the Jat-Muslim social combo to see them through in western UP, a section of political observers are not so sanguine. While the Jats are expected to back the RLD candidates without batting an eyelid, there are doubts whether they will transfer their votes to Congress.
Past experience suggests while RLD gained from an alliance, its electoral partner has not been so lucky. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Ajit Singh's outfit emerged triumphant in five seats, but BJP had to rest content with three.
BJP leaders are keenly watching the manner in which the Congress-RLD alliance unfolds. With Congress moving in aggressively to woo the Muslims, the saffron party is hoping for a counter-polarisation to take place. "If Congress goes overboard in appeasing the Muslims, it might prove to be counter-productive as it could prompt the OBCs, who would lose out from the sub-quota promise, to vote en-masse for us," said a BJP leader.
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