If the Lok Sabha elections for khap (social administration system) leaders was a time to sow, the coming assembly contests in Haryana is the hour to reap. From political supporters, they have turned ticket aspirants.
Kurukshetra college teacher Santosh Dahiya, president of the Sarv Khap Mahapanchayat women’s wing, who until now had said she was committed to only social causes and had no political ambitions, is official candidate of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) from Beri.
The native of Dighal village is an Ahlawat, one of the biggest Jat gotras in the assembly segment, and wants to sway the voters by projecting self as an educated, close confidante of the Chautala clan and a resourceful candidate from the Jat community. Not long ago in her social campaigns, she had ensured not be seen as caste-ist and admonished the media for linking her with a political outfit.
Then there is Sudesh Chaudhary, who first shot into the headlines when appointed first woman president of Hisar’s Satrol khap that has influence in 42 villages, and next when she joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to find solace in its rising graph after failing to get the INLD election ticket for Badli or Narnaund.
The first BJP list declares Aithgama khap leader Shamsher Kharkara candidate for the Meham seat, more for his past electoral performance. Om Prakash Dhankar of Dhankar khap, Jat reservation worker who used to boast of links with the ruling Congress, joined the BJP to support his senior namesake who will run from Badli. The self-styled Dhankar-khap pradhan (chief) had applied for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ticket for the Lok Sabha election in Rohtak and sat in the interview for it at Sonepat.
In August, Kandela Khap chief Tek Ram Kandela, campaigner against female foeticide and advocate of implementing the MS Swaminathan Commission report for agricultural reforms, joined the Congress officially. Now he demands ticket for the Jind assembly seat, claiming a clout in 28 villages under khap.
Baljit Singh, chief of one of the biggest khaps (Malik), who joined the BJP, now claims ticket from either Gohana or Baroda. His village, Ahulana, is in the Baroda segment but Malik gotra holds sway in both constituencies.
Jat Mahasabha president Om Prakash Maan has also joined the saffron party and asked to be candidate in Bhiwani. Sangwan khap acting chief Jorawar Sangwan is with Congress cabinet minister Kiran Choudhry, and hopes be fielded from any segment of she wishes, while Jat reservation movement leader commandant Hawa Singh Sangwan has given a call to the community already to back chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda for his extending the quota benefit to it.
As khap leaders are appointed, not elected, their influence is not as wide as they claim. The continuing debatable diktats of khaps favouring early marriage of girls as solution to rape, and barring them from wear jeans and keeping mobile phones have exposed their medieval style of functioning; though in a few progressive decisions, they also have broken a 650-year-old tradition of marriage within Satrol khap for a wider matchmaking choice.
The khap leaders defend their political aspirations. Busy making rounds of the Congress headquarters, Tek Ram Kandela, said all khaps had passed a resolution unanimously to seek candidature to able to fight for the rights of girls and farmers. Promising to deliver, Santosh Dahiya, INLD nominee from Beri, said: “I joined politics to take up social causes such as prohibition during elections and abolition of the veil system in villages.
Retired Delhi University professor DR Chaudhary, whose book, “Khap Panchayat and Modern Age”, was well received, said the khap leaders’ turning politicians in the election season exposed their agenda. “They use social platforms such as khap meetings for identity establishment and caste consolidation to use later for political gains,” he said.