In Haryana’s caste-centric politics, BJP rebel MP Raj Kumar Saini, 65, has emerged as the centre of non-Jat politics. His Loktantra Suraksha Party (LSP) surprised everyone by finishing ahead of the INLD-BSP in the recent, keenly watched Jind Assembly bypoll. Soon after, in a shot in the arm for Saini, the BSP announced it was breaking its 10-month-old alliance with the INLD to tie up with his LSP.
The two parties are now set to field candidates across Haryana for the Lok Sabha, aiming for the non-Jat votes that the BJP had been hoping to get. The BSP will be contesting eight of Haryana’s 10 Lok Sabha seats and the LSP two. The parties have vowed to continue their alliance for the Assembly polls too, due in October 2019, with the BSP to contest 35 seats, the LSP 55, and Saini the chief minister face.
Saini emerged as a leader in his own right during the 2016 Jat agitation for OBC status in Haryana. As it turned violent, Saini was the most vocal critic of the Jat community. As the BJP took no note of his anti-Jat tirade, there was widespread suspicion that the party was using him to polarise non-Jats against Jats.
Even though Jats are the single-largest community in Haryana, the BJP gameplan is seen as consolidating the non-Jat votes behind it, having already installed a Punjabi, Manohar Lal Khattar, at the helm of its state government.
Riding the Modi wave, the BJP had won seven of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014, getting 34.7 per cent of the votes. The INLD was second with two seats and 24.4 per cent of the votes and the Congress third with one seat and 22.9 per cent votes.
A few months later, the BJP had won 47 of the 90 seats in the Assembly polls — its 33.2 per cent of the votes putting it far ahead of the INLD’s 19 seats and 24.1 per cent votes, and the Congress’s 15 seats and 20.6 per cent votes.
Saini began his political career in 1996 with the Haryana Vikas Party, floated by former chief minister Bansi Lal after leaving the Congress. Soon after, the moneyed Saini had won from Naraingarh Assembly seat in Ambala and was made a minister. For a long time after that, he remained on the sidelines, resurfacing as BJP candidate from Kurukshetra in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. His win, by a margin of 1.3 lakh votes against the INLD’s Balbir Singh Saini, pushing Naveen Jindal of the Congress to the third spot, was seen as a result of the Modi wave.
Feeling thwarted in the BJP due to his rising ambitions, especially after the Jat agitation, Saini floated the LSP five months ago. The Jind bypoll was his first electoral test, and the LSP’s Brahmin candidate, Vinod Ashri, got 13,582 votes — a creditable performance in a multi-cornered contest that the BJP won securing 50,566 votes.
Saini calls the Jind result “the outcome of cheating” by the BJP. “Apshabdon mein bola gaya ki bichhoo jeet jayenge (Abusive words were used, that a scorpion would win if their candidate was not elected). I don’t know whom they were referring to as scorpion. Making it a battle of Jats and non-Jats, they sent the message that only the BJP can defeat (a Jat candidate).”
On why he left the BJP, the 65-year-old says, “I have always done politics keeping in view public sentiments… Today, I am an MP of the ruling party but I did not like that the government had bowed to goondagardi and that rights of the poor were being snatched.”
Saini says his agenda is abolition of the Rajya Sabha; 100 per cent reservation, with each caste getting its share in proportion to its population; employment for at least one member of each family; enforcement of two-child norm; and payment of Rs 5,000 per month as pension to senior citizens and the disabled.
He also claims that his alliance with the BSP “would be successful in the entire country”, and that not just the Sainis but backward classes and the Dalits too would back him. “Not only in Haryana, I will get support in Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh also.”
But what remains Saini’s trump card is his non-Jat plank. Having none of the constraints of a leader of a national party, Saini is expected to play the caste card to the hilt. Haryana is inhabited by “Chhattis jaat (36 castes)”, most politicians tend to underline. Saini openly says he stands for the rights of 35. No marks for guessing the 36th.