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RLD chief Jayant Chaudhary (File).

New Delhi: Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Jayant Chaudhary has mocked former ally Akhilesh Yadav amid speculation his Samajwadi Party will replace – a second time – its candidate for the Meerut Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh. The RLD boss posted a brief post on X (formerly Twitter) ‘congratulating’ the “lucky ones in the opposition (who) will get a chance, for a few hours” to contest in the 2024 general election.

“And those who did not get tickets, their fate is…” he wrote.

Mr Chaudhary’s jab came hours after talk the SP could replace its second-choice Meerut candidate Atul Pradhan with a third-choice – Sunita Verma. The party last week named Bhanu Pratap Singh for the contest, but backed down after local leaders signaled unease with the choice of an ‘outsider’.

Akhilesh Yadav was personally involved in the first course correction, sources have indicated, meeting with local leaders to understand their concerns, and pulled the trigger for second too.

The party’s second choice – Mr Pradhan – is the MLA from UP’s Sardhana Assembly segment. Its third choice – Mrs Verma – is a former Mayor and the wife of two-time MLA Yogesh Verma; both were expelled from Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party in 2019 and joined the SP two years later.

The second swap – fielding Mrs Verma – is because she is a Dalit candidate and Meerut is home to around four lakh Dalits. Mr Pradhan is from the Gujjar community, of whom there are less than a lakh.

The Meerut seat has been a BJP stronghold for the past 15 years; Rajendra Agarwal has held this seat for the saffron party since 2009. Mr Agarwal, though, is not in line for a fourth consecutive win because the BJP has fielded Arun Govil, who played Lord Ram in the popular TV series Ramayana.

Mr Govil is part of the BJP’s calculated push in western UP, where the party faltered in 2019.

READ | Jayant Chaudhary’s RLD Formally Joins BJP-Led NDA Alliance

Bringing Mr Chaudhary on board is crucial in that context, since the RLD has sway among Jats and farmers in that region. The RLD and the BJP reached an agreement in February, a month after Mr Chaudhary and Akhilesh Yadav struck a deal. The switch came after the BJP awarded a posthumous Bharat Ratna to former Prime Minister Charan Singh, who was Mr Chuadhary’s grandfather.

READ | “Dil Jeet Liya”: RLD Leader As PM Awads Bharat Ratna To Charan Singh

In the 2019 election the BJP won only 19 of 27 Lok Sabha seats in western UP – down from 24 in 2014. The BJP has set itself a target of 370+ seats on its own in this election.

To achieve that goal, the BJP will need to maximise returns from UP, a state that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha and one which has been the party’s unshakeable bastion in recent elections.

Two of those 80 seats will be contested by the RLD; Bijnor and Baghpat have been allotted to the party, and Chandan Chauhan and Rajkumar Sangwan have been named its candidates. The latter is crucial since it is viewed as a stronghold of Mr Chaudhary’s family; it elected his father Ajit Singh seven times.

READ | RLD Names Candidates For 2 Lok Sabha Seats It Got In Deal With BJP

The state will vote in all seven phases of the 2024 election, which begins April 19. Meerut will vote in the second phase – on April 26. All results will be declared on June 4.

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