Narwana: In the parliamentary elections, four months ago, Haryana’s Jats had found a new hero — Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They had moved away from their traditional Jat-centric politics and voted en masse for the PM, who they felt may not belong to their caste but definitely exemplified their ethos.
But with the state all set for assembly elections Monday, the tough and rustic community, which has held the key to power in the state for decades, is clearly holding its horses.
Not that the Modi sheen has dimmed one bit but the great divide between what matters in a Lok Sabha election versus the Vidhan Sabha polls is weighing more on the mind of the “practical” Jat voter.
This time, the community appears to be focusing more on its own leaders, their personalities, their achievements and potential. Factors such as the Modi government scrapping Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir or the Congress playing up unemployment and the poor state of the economy are secondary to the Jats.
“Then (in the parliamentary polls) we voted to bring a Prime Minister to power for India and Modi was the best choice. No other leader matched up to him,” says Mahender Singh, a Jat resident of Kalayat. “That remains true even today. But now we are voting for Haryana. The situation is completely different.”
The community at 25 per cent of the population in the state is the single largest vote bank. The Jat vote completely dominates almost 10 seats and largely dominates another 15 of the 90 seats in the state assembly. The Jats have traditionally been credited with bringing in parties to power or throwing them out.
The rise of the non-Jat electorate
Jats have always played a pivotal role in Haryana’s politics with most of the state’s chief ministers from the community.
The BJP’s strategy to consolidate the non-Jat voters, who constitute around 73 per cent of the population, and juxtapose them against the Jats has paid the party rich electoral dividends.
The Jat support for the party in the Lok Sabha elections was a bonus.
The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), which in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections garnered over 24 per cent of the voteshare, majority of its due to Jats, saw that nosedive to 1.8 per cent in these Parliamentary polls. Its breakaway faction, the Jannanyak Janta Party (JJP) got a mere 6 per cent of the votes.
More than 16 per cent of the Jat vote is calculated to have gone to the BJP, a record in Haryana’s electoral history. Riding on this, the BJP won all 10 parliamentary seats in the state.
“In the Lok Sabha we voted for Modi because the battle was over the border (with Pakistan, referring to the Balakot strikes). It was a call for nationalism and there can never be better nationalists than the Jats,” says Bhupinder Khatkar, a Narwana resident. “We supported Modi who gave India its pride. More than 60 per cent of Jats voted for Modi.”
The Jat admiration for Modi also has to do with the fact that a large number of them serve in the Indian Army. “We are the only caste on whose name there is a regiment,” adds Narender, a government employee at Uchana. “Also the maximum number of jawans of the Rashtriya Rifles posted at the border are from our community in Haryana. Modi gave it back to Pakistan making our army men proud.”
The proud community clearly prefers strong and decisive leaders. “Did we even have a choice in the Lok Sabha elections? At least the man we voted for had a strong chance of becoming the Prime Minister. We did not waste out vote,” says Suresh Thekewal of Uchana.
Back to state-centric leaders
But despite their backing of Modi at the national level, Jats remain unmoved by the BJP’s discourse hinging on Article 370. “How does it impact Haryana? We have been told we will be able to buy land there,” says Mukesh, a Jat resident of Kalayat. “But we don’t have the money. It is like saying gold rates have gone up even when there is no money to buy gold.”
For the Vidha Sabha elections Monday, the Jat mind is made up on voting only for strong local community leaders of the party of their choice or follow traditional family loyalties.
“My father got a job as a JBT teacher when Om Parkash Chautala was chief minister. My father now earns Rs 70,000 a month. We will vote for INLD whether they win or lose. We cannot forget the man who gave us our bread and butter,” says Aman who runs a shop in Narwana.