‘It’s tougher raising a movement like the farmers’ now. Constructing an aggressive, organic social movement will take time’: Jayant Chaudhary

Though the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) improved its tally from one in 2017 to eight this time in Uttar Pradesh, the party fell short of expectations. RLD president Jayant Chaudhary spoke to Sourav Roy Barman on a wide range of issues, including what worked for the BJP, the RLD alliance with the Samajwadi Party, farmers, and the way ahead. Excerpts:

Were you expecting more or are the results along the lines of your realistic assessment?

More seats were on the cards but had we managed better a few last-minute things, it would have helped. We are getting an assessment done, I have formed a three-member committee. They will tour the districts and meet party functionaries, candidates, look at the booth-level data and try and synchronise where our booth was strong and the result, and compare it to other areas where we were not traditionally strong. I have dissolved all the committees, frontal organisations to try and identify people who have worked hard and give them opportunities.

Do you think you could not communicate your ideas to voters, particularly on the issue of farmers, whom you identify as your core base?

Elections are complicated, we cannot assume that just one idea works. Yes, there are farmers. A majority of people living in villages are connected to agrarian life. They had solidarity with the farmers’ movement. But at the same time, while they were voting, other issues came up. So, it was a failure on our end to communicate our ideas on governance, our party’s track record, electricity, unemployment. Somewhere, the bouquet of issues did not take shape.

Did UP see a pro-incumbency vote?

Look, their (BJP) number of seats have come down. Our (alliance with the SP) vote share has doubled. There are things we have improved which would not have been possible had there not been an anti-incumbency vote as well. I feel because of the hard work we put in over the last few years, especially by being at the front of the anti-establishment movements, there was a pro-vote for us as well in our region. And there were anti-BJP votes. As a result, we won eight seats and narrowly lost a few.

Did issues related to ticket distribution also affect your prospects?

Out of 33 seats we fought, if we had issues in one or two seats, that is nothing. We faced problems because the seats we were contesting on were going to polls in the first phase. So, immediately we had to bring everything together. Our alliance talks were still going on. So, there are a few seats where if we had declared our candidates a little earlier, the candidates would have got more time to campaign and communicate our message to the people. That is one failing we can address while going forward. A pro-BJP voter is not looking at the candidates, I feel. They are looking at other issues, national issues, and narratives that are created. A large percentage of the floating voter is convinced by the BJP machinery that only the BJP can win.

What do you think worked more in the BJP’s favour — schemes like free ration, law and order, or Hindutva-induced polarisation?

Improvement in law and order was a manufactured impression. In our rallies, we spoke about Chaudhary Charan Singh’s track record in governance because I wanted people to remember our starting point, that is what we represent. Even Akhileshji, in his rallies with me, spoke about improving policing, not having any bias, on his cadre not getting a free hand. But the BJP WhatsApp teams used fake data on reducing crime despite NCRB data showing that UP has not performed well in crimes against women, marginalised sections. We should have communicated better.

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How else could you have communicated?

A few things we can address include motivating booth-level workers, selecting candidates earlier, giving them free hand to take up local issues. One thing we did right was announcing a manifesto four months before, which helped us frame our issues.

Why exactly could you not announce your candidates earlier?

Because of the alliance talks. There were some issues, back and forth on seats. We had largely an understanding that yes we are together. Beyond that at the micro level, you also have to look at what the opponents are doing, so, perhaps, we waited for too long there. In some seats, where we lost by very low margins, maybe even a week more would have made a difference.

The SP had a clear baggage, an image problem. Did it also affect your party’s prospects?

We all have a certain baggage. Our workers have a bent of mind, we all work under certain circles of influence. We all need to break away those boundaries. During Akhileshji’s last term, there were some positives, some negatives. He was aware of those shortcomings, he tried to address those issues. But at the end of the day, we did not cross the winning mark. So, we do need to assess it truthfully and frankly and collectively.

Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav and Rashtriya Lok Dal National President Jayant Chaudhary wave towards supporters during a rally ahead of Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. (PTI)

Could you have performed better had you gone alone?

I don’t think so. Like-minded people do need to work together, because the BJP has a tremendous advantage in terms of resources, organisation, which is very well-funded and motivated. So, to fight this election machinery, there are in fact more players that we need to involve who are influential in their communities.

So the alliance with the SP stays?

There is no trigger for us right now to change course. We have stuck by this, we got better results, there are positives we are taking out of this. And we will work harder.

Before the polls, the BJP had reached out to you.

They did so during the elections to polarise the election environment by raking up talks of ‘Jat land, Yadav land’. I reject these tags. I tried my best not to let this election be divisive, or polarised along caste or religious lines. But these things ultimately hurt us. Someone who is labelling me a Jat leader is not my well-wisher and clearly doesn’t want us to grow.

How powerful was the Modi-Yogi factor?

I don’t see any pro-Yogi emotion on the ground. In western UP, I haven’t found that. In Varanasi, Purvanchal, our party workers also said there is anti-incumbency. Of course, Modi as PM still has goodwill for him. But ultimately why do you need to run an election for one month? You have enough security forces, the EC claims to have a very efficient system in place. I do not see the need to have such a prolonged election cycle and somewhere, it also helped them. Modiji went and campaigned, deployed full might of the party, workers from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, other parts of the country were brought in. They have more resources, boots on the ground and when the poll becomes longer, it hurts us.

Like their rallies, the rallies of the SP and RLD were also well-attended. But it appears to have not translated into votes.

Yes, there was a lot of enthusiasm. A large number of younger people attended the rallies and it was very visible that emotional connections were being made. Definitely those people also voted for us, which reflects in our increased seat and vote share.

Your attempts to broaden the RLD’s social base through programmes such as Bahujan Uday Yatra did not help much.

I think many battles are to be fought before the war is declared won or lost. This is a small victory for us that several booths where we used to get minuscule votes, we have done better. In our organisation, there were newer people coming from SCs and most backward sections. We need to course correct, increase the base geographically as well as socially,

How do you see the BSP factor ?

In our area in western UP, the BSP was a significant political player, which has seen a rapid shrinking of its vote share. The feedback from some of our candidates is that in some constituencies, it was almost like the BSP cadre was specifically instructed to transfer votes to the BJP.

You are suggesting it was a conscious strategy to transfer?

That is the feedback from our candidates, based on the assessment of booth-level performance.

Before the polls, you had said if forces like the RLD lose, it will be tough for movements like that of farmers to take roots again.

It has become tougher, let me freely admit. To immediately construct a very aggressive, widespread, organic social movement will take time. And we also need to give time to the newly formed government to perform. A movement can also be subterranean, something that is not overtly expressed but it results in a shift of political capital. We may not immediately see a protest where lakhs of farmers are coming but at the same time, if we are able to arouse a sense of belonging, we are able to make people aware of their rights about how governments in power are working against them, that is also an ‘andolan’. It is also for the SKM (Samyukta Kisan Morcha) to decide. Maybe farmers can develop their own vote bank, improve their political identity.

PM Modi is very clear that UP has determined the fate of the 2024 polls.

That’s not the case. It is part of BJP propaganda to create an aura of invincibility. To be fair, in UP we put up a very credible performance. We put up a tough fight, and did much better than last time.

What is your view on the argument that SP chief Akhilesh Yadav was late in launching the campaign and did little in the previous four years?

I think, he was trying to improve his cadre, holding meetings with booth-level workers, which was not written about. Some say the campaign started late but the fact is Covid was around and he was also afflicted by Covid. For that reason, his campaign might have been delayed. It is not for me to address these questions. People want a very aggressive and vocal opposition that hits the streets when required and, talking from the RLD’s perspective, we will continue to do so.

The Congress has been nearly wiped out from UP this time and it also performed poorly in other states.

I think we get very obsessed with our own histories sometimes. Politics is about issues of today and issues of tomorrow. Voters are not beholden to anybody. That is why when Modi says 2024 is a done deal, it is not a done deal. Voters will again assess. In the Congress, a lot of people stick to the idea that it is the default party, ultimately people will return to the Congress. That is a wrong notion. And people within the Congress need to realise that. There is a constant need to reinvent ourselves. If we want true leadership to emerge, we need to get newer people in the fold, I don’t see the Congress doing those things right now.

But the Congress says it has been at the forefront on many issues, be it Hathras or Unnao.

Events are important in politics because they disrupt the normal course. People are forced to think about their political position. At the same it is also about issues. They (the Congress) were responding to events, they were criticising the BJP. But what their campaign stood for perhaps was not strong in people’s minds. You cannot just respond to events, you have to create your own programmes and I don’t see any from the Congress, definitely not in UP. Introspection should happen, they are a major player in the Opposition space and what they do or don’t do also impacts other parties.

How do you view the rise of AAP?

AAP has some inherent conflicts and challenges that they need to resolve. They have taken a new state. Punjab’s financial condition is very poor. They have made very populist promises. It remains to be seen how they implement those promises.

For how long do you think the BJP will continue to dominate India’s political landscape ?

They are definitely a pole in national politics. And that does not mean the Opposition is so diminished that there is no hope. There will be new sparks, and India is a new country where there are so many ideological differences and diversity. Even one family has two to three different strains of thought. To assume that we all can be painted in one colour of saffron, is not true. That’s why we are hopeful that one day a strong Opposition will overturn this political matrix.

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