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Conflicted Jat community holds key

The community holds the key to success in more than 40 Assembly segments in the 90-member Assembly.

Written by MUKESH BHARDWAJ | Rohtak |
Updated: October 11, 2014 12:12:57 pm

Narinder Kharab, a resident of Safidon and a member of Haryana’s majority Jat community, is unhappy at the way his community has been treated outside Rohtak and Jhajjar. “We stood by this (Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led) government for two terms, but what have we got outside Rohtak and Jhajjar? Nothing. It’s time for a change,” he says.

His opinion contradicts the views of Bhupender Sihag, a youth from the same community. “Look around you. This CM has helped the area like no one else could have. There is no reason for him to lose. Not only the Jats, but all communities back him,” Sihag says.

The contradicting sentiments sum up the state of mind of the Jat community, which could hold the key to deciding Assembly elections in the state. This is likely to emerge as a key factor for Chief Minister Hooda, who has so far survived on the strength of this community. But if the Congress is unable to address their grievances, it may be heading for tough times.

Both the Congress and the main opposition INLD are led by Jat leaders — Hooda and Om Prakash Chautala, respectively. The BJP, which has so far struggled to make its mark on the community, has poached Congress veteran Birender Singh to provide a strong Jat face to its campaign. Meanwhile, the HJC, the Lokhit Party and the Jan Chetna Party are focusing on the non-Jat vote bank as they are aware they cannot secure a following among the community.

Since 1996, Haryana has chosen Jat leaders. The community, which constitutes more than 25 per cent of the total electorate, is known for voting en bloc. Former chief minister Bhajan Lal was the only non-Jat CM to complete his term. He was ousted from power in 1996 by former CM Bansi Lal, a prominent Jat leader.

Chautala, who was CM between 1999 and 2005, was also voted out because the Jats were unhappy with him. Since then, Hooda has done everything to please the community. So much so, that the appointment of a vice-chancellor in the state was delayed, reportedly because the government wanted to find a Jat candidate for the post.

The community holds the key to success in more than 40 Assembly segments in the 90-member Assembly. Hooda knows this, which is why five out of 10 ministers in his Cabinet are Jats.

The community has strongholds in Rohtak, Jind, Sonepat, Sirsa, Bhiwani-Mahendergarh and Hisar. In these districts, Jats constitute between 30 to 50 per cent of the electorate.

The Jat vote had so far been divided between Hooda and Chautala. This time, to counter the Congress, the BJP has fielded 25 candidates from the community. However, poll experts feel that this plan may backfire as it might deter non-Jats from voting for it.

In small Assembly constituencies, where 1-1.5 lakh voters decide the fate of candidates, even a 30 per cent share of the community can tilt the balance. For example, in Hooda’s native constituency of Kiloi Garhi Sampla, nearly 50 per cent of the voters are Jats. This explains why Hooda is happy to accept the tag of a Jat leader.

So far, the community has stood by him. But with other parties, especially the BJP, making a bid to appease the community, it remains to be seen if he can maintain his hold. Jats outside Rohtak, Jhajjar and Sonepat have expressed displeasure with the Hooda government, which may affect his poll prospects. Despite Hooda’s push to woo Jats from outside these areas, other parties, especially the INLD, seem to have gained ground.

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