BJP's win in Jind by-poll widens split between Jat and non-Jat voters

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has consolidated his position in the state after the BJP won the crucial Jind Assembly by-poll. Photo: PTI
The result of the Jind Assembly by-poll on January 31 was a watershed moment in Haryana’s politics for two reasons: First, it accentuated the socio-political and economic schism between the state’s dominant Jats and the non-Jats; second,  it consolidated the position of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar among the MLAs of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP won Jind for the first time since Haryana came into existence. A political observer said: “It appeared that non-Jat voters had regrouped around the BJP like never before.” Khattar is a Punjabi and that augmented the BJP’s lead, the observer said.

The data with political parties revealed that the Jats comprise 21 per cent to 22 per cent of the population.  A BJP source said, “Jats had the edge because they vote in a regimented manner. They live in clusters. For example, as many as 72 contiguous villages facilitate the organisation of ‘khap panchayats’ (community organisations representing a clan or related clans). If a village has, say, 1000 voters, over 500 are Jats.” 

However, in February 2016, bristling over Haryana being helmed by a Punjabi CM and not a Jat, the reservation agitation was resurrected and turned violent on a scale that was never seen in the caste skirmishes of the past. “Baniyas and Punjabis were business competitors. They never voted together. But when Jats set upon both the communities and destroyed their properties,  Baniyas and Punjabis made peace and voted as one in local elections and then Jind,” the source said. 

Khattar’s early days as CM were unsettled. He was confronted with popular opposition to the imminent arrests of two powerful self-proclaimed godmen, Rampal and Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan, after they were found guilty of murders and rape. Ram Rahim, who headed the Dera Sacha Sauda, a socio-religious outfit commanding allegiance largely from the backward castes and Dalits, was the more influential and sought after by politicians. A Congress backer, in 2014, he switched allegiance to the BJP after Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly extolled him. Ram Rahim swung the “Dera votes”— estimated to range from 8,000 to 10,000 in every assembly constituency — for the BJP 48 hours before Haryana voted in the 2014 state polls. 

“These two never honoured summons from the courts as long as Bhupinder Singh Hooda (Congress leader and former CM) was around. Our CM handled the arrests with minimum damage to law and order,”  claimed Raman Malik, Haryana BJP spokesperson. 

Malik mapped Khattar’s “evolution” that traversed a familiar BJP trajectory. “He was an RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) worker who became a pracharak (whole-timer), then (Haryana) organising secretary. He was catapulted to becoming an MLA and then CM.  He has evolved as a neta (leader),” said Malik. Another BJP legislator said: “In the beginning, the old-timers, unhappy over having to work under him, tried to destabilise him. The CM stood his ground.”

Khattar’s resilience was attributed to his equation with Modi and the “resolve” to do a metaphorical “swachch (clean) Haryana government campaign” to sweep away the cobwebs of corruption and nepotism.  Panchkula MP Ratan Lal Kataria recalled that when he headed the BJP in Haryana, he, Khattar (then an organising secretary), and Modi (then a general secretary minding Haryana) worked as a “team”.  Sudha Yadav, former Mahendragarh MP and now BJP national secretary, claimed, “The CM has ushered in transparency in appointments, postings and transfers, which were the founts of corruption and favouritism in previous regimes. Earlier, 80 per cent of jobs would go to Jats. Now everybody gets a fair chance.”      

BJP General Secretary Anil Jain, who’s in charge of Haryana, stressed that the centrality of the party organisation and the Centre’s “munificence” should not be taken away from the narrative.  “We had no roots in Haryana, to begin with. We won the assembly elections on a combination of strategies. We worked hard on the panchayat polls, gathered the cadre, heard out their problems and redressed those. Tactically, we didn’t fight the panchayat polls on our symbol but we did well (the Congress challenged the claim). We won the mayoral polls in five big places. By the time we won Jind, we were convinced we had struck deep roots in Haryana,” Jain explained.

Central minister Chaudhary Birender Singh Dumerkhan said the PM-Kisan scheme was imbued not so much with “monetary worth” as “symbolic import”. “For the first time, farmers in my constituency say a government has given them a sense of identity and not treated them like targeted beneficiaries of schemes.”

Also, according to  D P Vats, the BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP and former Lt. General , a surge in “nationalist sentiments” after the Pulwama terror attack and the Air Force’s strike on a terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot  would override the Jat-non-Jat divide. “Haryana is a military state. Its soldiers were in the frontline of the first India-Pakistan war in 1947-48 over Kashmir’s accession. They had a big role in every war fought since then. The BJP has a big advantage over the others,” claimed Vats.

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