“It was frightening… it all happened in front of our eyes.” For Rajkumar, the violence that gripped Rohtak during the Jat agitation of 2016 was the most harrowing experience of his life.
The 50-year-old studio owner near Ashok Chowk remembers how the “Jats came in trucks and trollies and vandalised shops”. His memory is still clear: “The mobile shop on the other side of the road was set on fire and all mobile phones were looted. It’s very unfortunate that the Jat community is very well off, but still resorted to violence for reservation,” he says.
The Jat agitation, aimed at their inclusion in the Other Backward Classes (OBC), spawned violence across the region for almost ten days, resulted in at least 30 deaths and extensive damage to property. The government finally gave in and Jats got the OBC status. But the Punjab and Haryana High Court set aside the quota soon after.
“The anger is still there in people’s mind. But since it has been two years and things are back to normal, we want the peace to continue,” says grocer Balraj. He thinks the anger against the state government for its inability to control the violence in Rohtak is unlikely to impact the BJP negatively. “What option do we have today. If we vote another party to power, the BJP may not allow it to function smoothly. So for the betterment of our state we want the same party in the Centre and state,” he reasons.
Balraj is more worried about how the slowdown has affected his business. “Our business has suffered a lot. Today, it is difficult to manage our household expenses,” he says, though quickly adding that people here still want the BJP to come to power and thus avoid the tussle that is likely with the Centre if the Congress wins the state.
Rohit runs a fast food and thinks his city has not seen the growth it should have. “Big projects were supposed to come here, but it didn’t happen,” he laments.
But Rohtak MLA Manish Grover, who is also a minister in Haryana cabinet, believes his government’s success has been in improving the law and order situation in the area and people will vote for that. “During Congress rule crime was at its peak and people were scared of coming out of their homes. Today, things have changed and that is a big achievement for me as the MLA,” he says.
It helps that the Opposition today stands divided. “Very soon there will be no opposition as most of their leaders are joining our party,” Grover exudes confidence.
The MLA does not think the Jats, having lost the reservation are more angry with the government. “We don’t believe in caste politics. There are 36 communities in Rohtak. Be it Jats or other castes, we take everyone along.”
His campaign pitch is very clear though. Attending a rally in the city, Grover echoed Home Minister Amit Shah and spoke at length about Article 370. “Why should nationalism be not an issue?” he asks, reminding the crowd how jawans from Haryana had sacrificed their lives in Kashmir. “It was the wrong policy of the Congress government that was responsible for the death of our soldiers. Article 370 should have gone before,” he adds.
And the nationalism card is not something the Congress wants to play. “How will Article 370 solve problems in Rohtak?” asks Grover’s rival B B Batra, who lost to the BJP leader in 2014.
Terming Grover “a corrupt man who believes in insulting people,” the Congress candidate says Rohtak is suffering because of the BJP MLA. “Where are the new development projects? Ten years of our rule brought a lot of development in Rohtak — IIM, AIIMS, green park, six-lane connectivity to the expressway and good roads among other things. When you compare it with the five year-rule of the BJP government in Haryana, no new projects have come,” says Batra.
However, Congress is confident about raking in the Jat votes this time. “Jat reservation is not an issue. What happened two years ago was because of the failure of the government and the false promises made by the chief minister. Though we don’t believe in caste politics, we are hopeful people will vote for us.”