Khaps, sects, castes hold sway in Jatland

Khaps, sects, castes hold sway in Jatland

Assembly polls: Political parties risk polarisation of non-Jat votes

Khaps, sects, castes hold sway in Jatland

 In a state that has witnessed leaders from the Jat community becoming chief ministers in the last four consecutive governments, caste equations, community considerations, khaps and the all-powerful  socio-religious deras (sects) hold sway.

The dominant political narrative ahead of elections in Haryana is being funnelled on similar lines. Jats in Haryana constitute the dominant community with a sizable 25 per cent of the state population, followed by the scheduled castes (21 per cent).

But, inherent in every major party’s positioning as a messiah of the dominant community lies the inevitable risk of a split in Jat votes and polarisation of non-Jat votes.

 Every prominent political party prefers a sizable number of Jat leaders as nominees, hoping to get its share of the pie. The Congress and the INLD are strong contenders vying for a sizable share of Jat votes.

In fact, a change in the Congress election strategy projecting itself as a more Jat-centric outfit came about after the 2005 Assembly elections.

Although the election was fought under the leadership of a non-Jat face—late former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal—the Congress high command preferred a Jat leader, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, to take over the coveted post of chief minister after the party ousted the then Chautala regime.

The gamble to make substantial inroads in Jat votes paid off.  Hooda gave the Congress two successive wins.

Dera factor

The influence of the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda–one of most prominent sects in Haryana with a phenomenal following across several states–will be a determining factor on the electorate. Politicians in bulk across party lines are queuing up to seek the blessings of the sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. Just a few days ago, the sect head rained praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an event in Sirsa.

The all-powerful khap panchayats in Jatland, often in news for issuing unpalatable, unconstitutional diktats, command a sizable community based network in many parts of the state.

The khaps are influencing voters in a big way this election. In fact, the BJP and the INLD have fielded three top khap leaders in the elections. Contrary to popular perception, all three are millionaires.

In the last two terms of the Congress in Haryana, Hooda has tried hard to consolidate Jat votes by announcing measures like granting OBC status to Jats.  
This has come about at the risk of polarisation of other castes and non-Jat communities against the Congress. It was perhaps evident in Lok Sabha elections when the Congress lost 9 out of the 10 parliamentary seats in Haryana.