“THE ‘R’ in RLD and the ‘IN’ in INLD are misnomers,” said a Left leader from Haryana, explaining that neither party has a “national” presence as the initial letters of the acronyms suggest. For instance, in the last decade or more, the Rashtriya Lok Dal has been confined to western Uttar Pradesh, an area predominantly populated by Jats. Even in this region, its influence is not uniformly spread. Led by Union Minister Ajit Singh, the RLD has entered into a seat-sharing arrangement with the Congress and is contesting in eight seats in the current Lok Sabha elections. But its record shows that it has partnered more with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In the outgoing Lok Sabha, the RLD has five members, representing Hathras, Amroha, Baghpat, Mathura and Bijnor. The circumstances under which the RLD finds itself at present are vastly different from 2009 because of the communal turn of events in Muzaffarnagar. It has weakened the party’s hold over Jats, and the social engineering which brought Jats, Muslims and a section of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) to vote for the party has collapsed. To keep itself relevant in politics, the RLD is demanding a separate State of Harit Pradesh, a Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court in Mathura, and a bigger role for itself in farmer-related issues. But as a representative of farmers and of the entire peasantry once upon a time, the RLD has lost a lot of ground. Giving the Lok Sabha ticket to Rakesh Tikait, the spokesperson for the Bharatiya Kisan Union, to contest from Amroha is seen as a move by the party to woo the Jat community back.
Ajit Singh inherited his father Chaudhary Charan Singh’s mantle as a leader of Jats. Charan Singh and Devi Lal, two tall leaders in Indian politics, competed in a sense for the undisputed leadership of Jats though there was never any open conflict between them. While the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) managed to extend its influence beyond Haryana to Rajasthan, albeit briefly, the Lok Dal remained confined to western Uttar Pradesh.
Charan Singh broke away from the Congress in October 1967 to form the Bharatiya Kranti Dal. In 1974, seven anti-Congress parties merged to form the Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD) under his leadership. According to Balbir Grewal, who was a close associate of Charan Singh, these regional parties were led by leaders such as Biju Patnaik, Raj Narain and Karpoori Thakur. The BLD became a part of the Janata Party, which came to power after the general election in 1977. When the Janata Party split and the BJP was formed, Charan Singh formed the Lok Dal. “The base of the RLD was the peasantry. Charan Singh believed that poverty can be eliminated only by uplifting the peasantry,” Grewal told Frontline .
Sudhir Panwar, a professor at Allahabad University, believes that Charan Singh wielded tremendous influence over the peasant community, including Jats. “The majority of the community is still with Ajit Singh though the BJP has made inroads [into the Jat area],” Panwar said. And to consolidate this vote bank, Ajit Singh needs to be in power. It was learnt that he tried hard for a pre-election alliance with the BJP, but the Jat leadership of the BJP was averse to it, arguing that the party would never expand on its own if it went along with the RLD. With nine legislators, the RLD has a negligible presence in the 403-strong Uttar Pradesh Assembly. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the party entered into an alliance with the Samajwadi Party and won three seats, securing a vote share of 4.49 per cent. In 2009, it joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and won five seats though its vote share dipped to 3.27 per cent. In 2011, the party joined the United Progressive Alliance government.
The RLD’s swing from one alliance to the other has not led to any progressive politics in the region or the uplift of peasants. If anything, his party has been a failure in checking the communal polarisation among the peasantry.