Riddle of Jat vote bank

Haryana politics has always been dictated by Jat votes. Even in the upcoming Assembly polls, the community’s support will decide the outcome

Deepender Deswal in Hisar

Any political discussion in Haryana is incomplete without  a reference to the Jats versus non-Jats phenomenon. Being the single-largest community, Jats enjoy massive influence in power politics.

Referred to as the bolti vote (vocal electorate), Jats have been speaking their mind in state politics. Which party the Jats favour is always a more important issue than any other poll plank in Haryana. The importance of Jat-vote bank, by default, has led to the emergence of its antithesis — non-Jats (other castes).

The feedback from the Jat community, however, is like writing on the wall. They are largely taking anti-BJP stand in the coming polls. In the absence of official figures, the political experts believe that there are about 25 to 28 per cent Jat voters in the state.

Among the claimants of this vote share are Congress leaders Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Randeep Surjewala, the INLD, Dushyant Chautala’s newly floated outfit Jannayak Janta Party, besides Jat leaders of the ruling BJP.

Rishi Saini, a keen observer of Haryana politics, maintains that Jats are likely to resort to a tactical voting pattern to oust the BJP this time. “In the past, they would strive for political partnership by electing MLAs. But they don’t want to settle for anything less than their own representative (a Jat leader) for the chief ministerial post,” he adds.

Saini says that as of now, Hooda holds a major sway over Jats in Rohtak, Jhajjar, Sonepat, Panipat and even parts of Hisar and Sirsa districts and is likely to garner 60 per cent Jat vote if the Congress lends him the opportunity. “Former CM Om Prakash Chautala could tilt the scales in his favour if he comes out of jail to campaign for INLD. Surjewala, who wields influence in Kaithal and Jind districts, is another option for Jats in the Congress party. MP Dushyant Chautala of the JJP looks pretty steady as well with young Jat voters on his side,” he says. The picture would become clearer once the elections are announced.

After having a Jat CM for 18 consecutive years — from 1996 to 2014 when Bansi Lal, Chautala and Hooda (all Jats) became CMs —  the BJP’s strategy was to consolidate non-Jats, assisted by the Modi wave. It succeeded and Manohar Lal Khattar, who  hails from Punjabi community, became the chief minister. Jats vented out their anger against the BJP when the state government failed to defend their newfound OBC status that was scrapped by the court in March 2015. Hooda-led Congress government had accorded them the status in March 2014 after a prolonged agitation.

In February 2016, when the Jats led by All India Jat Arakshan Sangharsh Samit resumed the stir, it turned violent and 30 persons lost their lives. The unprecedented violence did not only put a blot on the BJP government, it also portrayed the Jat community as the one that can’t support a non-Jat leader (Khattar) as CM.

Farm distress and problems like shortage of fertilisers, exploitation in procurement and distress sale of farm produce further fuelled the anti-BJP sentiments.

Prof SS Chahar, former chairman of Centre for Haryana Studies (CHS) at Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak, admits that the recent Congress win in Rajasthan, MP and Chhatisgarh has tilted the Jat support towards Congress leader Hooda. Quoting political-affairs wing of the CM secretariat, he claims that Jats comprise 32 per cent electorate of Haryana, though some other observers contest the figures and add that they have about 25-28 per cent vote share.

Rajender Rathee, a retired teacher, says that about 25 of the 90 Assembly segments in the Jat heartland of Jind, Rohtak, Sonepat, Jhajjar, Hisar, Bhiwani have an overwhelming Jat presence, while 20 other segments have significant Jat votes, which, if polarised, could sway the outcome.

Despite being divided on the regional lines of Bhiwani, Fatehabad and Sirsa belt, Banger belt of Jind area, Deswali Jats of Rohtak, the community showed political unity during the Devi Lal era. The political stalwart enjoyed support and respect of all Jats.

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