Chandigarh: He is being called the one-man show in Haryana but former BJP MP from Kurukshetra Rajkumar Saini is no pushover in these Lok Sabha elections. Behind the rise of his “revenge party” is an astute political formula consolidating the anti-Jat vote in the state.
Saini’s new Lok Suraksha Party (LSP) has the potential to be a new political force in Haryana.
With its alliance with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the LSP is targeting the Dalit Jatavs and Rajkumar’s caste of the Sainis, OBCs who are traditional vegetable growers.
The new combine has given the BJP and Congress a new front to battle. On its own, the alliance is unlikely to win but it will play spoiler in many constituencies as Dalits are traditional voters of the Congress and the Saini community usually votes for the BJP.
The new party has its origins in his antipathy for the dominant Jats of Haryana, which was fuelled after the violence of the Jat reservation stir.
Haryana has an almost 29 per cent Jat population but Dalits makes up 20 per cent of the population. Of the over 50 lakh Dalits, over 24 lakh are Chamars and the rest largely divided between Balmikis and Dhanaks.
The non-Jat population is much higher but not united. Saini wants to bring together the backward classes under one umbrella.
Fallout of Jat stir
A prominent OBC leader of the state, Saini turned rebel in 2017 when he opposed the manner in which the Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government began placating the Jats despite the unprecedented violence that had marked the Jat reservation agitation in 2016.
“The 35 biradari getting together to oppose the 36th biradari, the Jats, is where the idea originated,” says Avtar Saini, a Kurukshetra resident.
The phrase “36 biradaris” is commonly used in Haryana to refer to the unity among all castes and communities. During the jat reservation violence, a loosely mustered “35 biradari Sangharsh Sangathan” was created to counter the violence unleashed by the Jats. These included the Sainis, Ahirs, Punjabis and Khatris among others.
But the Sangathan could not do much to contain the Jat violence, which went on uninterrupted for three days even as the state machinery and army remained mute spectators. The businesses of Punjabis, Sainis and others were targeted by the rampaging Jats who went about burning and looting shops and buildings.
Saini then created a Lok Suraksha Manch to protect the interest of the affected communities. Last year, it turned it into the Lok Suraksha Party.
Saini began speaking out against the Jats, openly condemning the BJP government for even considering giving reservation to a community that is already one of the most affluent and powerful in Haryana. He began to say that every benefit given to the Jats was at the cost of the backward classes.
An encouraging poll start
The LSP’s first electoral battle was the Jind bypoll where Saini’s candidate came in fourth securing more votes than the candidate of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Haryana’s principal opposition party.
The result prompted Mayawati’s BSP to stitch an alliance with Saini. This is the second time that the BSP has allied with a Haryana party in the past year. It had earlier tied up with INLD for the Lok Sabha and assembly polls.
But following the schism in the Chautala family, which runs the INLD, and the Ajay Chautala clan subsequently forming the Jannayak Janata Party, the BSP broke its alliance with the INLD.
In these Lok Sabha elections, of the 10 seats in the state, the BSP has fielded candidates on eight seats and LSP on two. Haryana votes on 12 May.
Though the LSP-BSP combine is harbouring no dreams of consolidating the entire non-Jat vote, it is certain that it can offer a strong alternative to Dalits and backward castes. Campaigning on a no-holds-barred anti-Jat narrative on these seats, the BSP-LSP combine is vying for the backward caste votes as well as the Dalit vote-bank to outnumber the Jat votes.
“Apart from SCs and BCs, we are getting the support of other non-Jats,” senior BSP leader Megh Raj told the media.
BSP looking for revival
The BSP too is looking for a revival in the state after its gradual depletion over the years. It last won a parliamentary seat in 1998 and its vote share has fallen dramatically — from 16.4 per cent in 2009 to 4.6 per cent in 2014.
Party chief Mayawati will be addressing four rallies in the state in the coming days.
“Everyone talks of the dominant castes in their aspirations,” said Saini. “Nobody is bothered about what the backward people and the poor of the state want. We are going to fill that gap.”
Even though the population of the Sainis is only about 3 per cent across the state, it is clustered substantially in and around Kurukshetra. The LSP-BSP has fielded Shashi Saini from Kurukshetra.
The BJP has had to follow the traditional pattern of giving the ticket to a Saini here, fielding cabinet minister Nayab Singh Saini for the contest.
Rajkumar Saini had announced that he will contest against the former chief minister and prominent Jat leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda from Sonipat but he failed to file his nomination papers on time and will be campaigning for his candidates.
“I am not against reservation. I am against well to do communities getting reservation,” Saini said. “We are against government policies. We have put up a Jat candidate in Faridabad.”