Situated about 10 kilometres from the main market in Kairana, village Kaserwa Kalaan is Jat-dominated. Villagers put the population of Jats – a dominant caste in western Uttar Pradesh – in the village at about 50%.As one walks around the narrow lanes, with large houses on either side, one sees the title Chaudhari – typical of Jats in the region – prefixed to nameplates in many houses.It is this powerful, agrarian caste that may in some ways hold the key to the May 28 Lok Sabha bypoll in which the BJP locks horns with a combined opposition that has backed the candidature of Tabassum Begum, now with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, a party traditionally associated with Jats in western U.P.Kaserwa Kalaan seems to be veering around to the RLD this time, with Jat villagers strongly backing the RLD.If Jats vote for the RLD in large numbers, the combined strength of Muslims, a numerically powerful community here, Jats and Dalits can make the contest a tough one for the BJP.Playing cards with his friends just outside his house, Bhopal Masterji, an ageing teacher belonging to the Jat caste, says the village is heavily tilted towards the RLD this time.He faults the BJP for the recent Karnataka crisis, and points to rising fuel prices to claim that the party has been unable to fulfil its promises.Communal overtones to the election apart, caste alignments are key to the poll outcome here, with the opposition combine banking on Jats deserting the BJP to vote for the RLD candidate.This is what seems to be happening, if Kaserwa Kalaan is any indicator.However, community stereotypes regarding Muslims remain, despite the shift.Asked if Jats would vote for a Muslim candidate of the RLD – given that Muzaffarnagar had seen Jat-Muslim riots in 2013 – Sanjeev Singh, a resident of the village, says that Jats would vote for any RLD candidate this time.“But if the RLD were to field a Jat candidate, not one Muslim would vote for him,” he adds with a wry smile.‘Muslim votes crucial’“Muslims are large in number here, and their votes are going to be crucial. Add Jats, and the RLD is on a strong wicket,” he says. “The day Muslims cross the 50% population mark in western U.P., only candidates they prefer will be elected.”The BJP also has a caste card in Kairana. They are banking on the Gujjars, with their candidate Mriganka Singh being late Gujjar leader Hukum Singh’s daughter.Apart from Gujjars – an influential caste here – the BJP is counting on upper caste Hindus, particularly Baniyas, to see it through.
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