Jats, who constitute about 25 per cent of Haryana’s electorate, have traditionally dominated politics in the state, but things could be changing.
Since 1966, when the state was created, 12 of the 19 chief ministers have been Jats. Bansi Lal was chief minister for about 11 years. Devi Lal and his son, Om Prakash Chautala, had comparatively smaller stints. Bhajan Lal was the only non-Jat chief minister to have had a long tenure — about 12 years.
The traditional domination of the Jats has primarily been attributed to the Green Revolution, which has brought prosperity to land-holding agriculturists. The districts of Rohtak, Sonepat, Jind and Hisar are known as the Jat heartland of the state although the community also has a formidable presence in Jhajjar, Bhiwani, Sirsa and Fatehabad.
And even though the battle lines are yet to be drawn in Haryana, it seems that the state will witness intense Jat rivalry on seats like Bhiwani, Hisar, Sonepat and Rohtak.
But four-cornered contests among the Congress, Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the Haryana Vikas Party and the BJP could split the
Jat votes and give other communities — Banias, Punjabis, Dalits and other backward castes — greater leverage.
Political parties have registered this change and re-calibrated their strategies.
This became obvious during the 2000 assembly elections, which the INLD had won with a comfortable majority. It has remained obvious since then. Trying to dispel the notion that it was merely party of Jats, Chautala has tried hard to attract the support of other castes and communities. Despite being able to secure over 50 per cent of the Jat votes in the elections, the party brought Punjabis and Banias into its fold in greater numbers.
Chautala’s desperation to seek widespread support has made him say publicly on numerous occasions: “My detractors used to say that Om Prakash played the farmer and Jat card to secure votes. But now they say I play the Punjabi and Bania card. They call me Om Prakash Mahajan now.’’
The party has, however, still not been able to win many Dalit and backward classes votes.