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In Haryana politics, caste factor rules the roost

india Updated: Sep 15, 2014 00:37 IST
Hitender Rao

Caste patterns often play a decisive role in electoral politics of Haryana with sharp divisions influencing the outcome of the polls.

Be it the hierarchical structure of a political party, distribution of tickets or for that matter composition of council of ministers, caste considerations hold sway.

The proportion in which a particular caste pockets its share in the power pie is diametrically related to its representation in the vote bank.

Share in power pie

So it does not come as a surprise that Jats who enjoy about 25% presence making them the single largest community in the state have always been able to capture a substantial share in the power.

Ever since its formation in 1966, Jat chief ministers have ruled Haryana for the maximum period for over 30 years. In fact, since 1996 the state has been under a continuous rule of a Jat chief minister – Bansi Lal (1996-1999), Om Prakash Chautala (1999-2005) and Bhupinder Singh Hooda (from 2005 till now).

The only credible face who, to a certain extent, was able to break into the Jat hegemony was late Bhajan Lal. Despite coming from the minority Bishnoi community, Bhajan Lal was able to remain at helm as chief minister for over a decade. But if one analysed his ascendancy, Lal’s success was primarily due to his being able to cash in on the anti-Jat sentiment of the electorate.

Cong changed tacks

The Congress, which ousted the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) from the power in 2005 – capitalising largely on anti-incumbency of the INLD — played the caste card post elections by handing over the reins of the state to a Jat leader from the Deswali belt, Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

Even though the 2005 assembly poll was contested under the leadership of Bhajan Lal who was the state Congress president at that time, it was Hooda who was able to work his way up to the throne.

Hooda’s ascendancy, however, ensured that the Congress was able to make significant inroads into the Jat vote bank of Om Prakash Chautala’s INLD. The sidelining of Bhajan Lal gave birth to Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), a non-Jat-centric outfit led by his ambitious son Kuldeep Bishnoi.

Jat reservation

The appeasement of Jat electorate continued during the Congress rule –both at the Centre and in Haryana. Bowing to their demands, chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda set up a Haryana Backward Classes Commission (HBCC), which recommended 10% special backward class (SBC) quota for Jats, Jat Sikhs, Bishnois, Rors and Tyagis, taking the reservation to 57% in the state, a decision unlikely to stand legal scrutiny in the light of Supreme Court judgment in the Indira Sawhney case, which said reservation contemplated under Article 16 (4) of the Constitution should not exceed 50%.

Article 16 provides for equality of opportunity in matters of public employment. The HBCC, however, in its report analysed the SC order and based their recommendation on the apex court’s view that while 50% shall be the rule, it is necessary not to put out of consideration certain extraordinary situations inherent in the great diversity of the country and people.

Later, the union council of ministers in the UPA government disregarded the advice of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), which had rejected the request for inclusion of Jats in the central lists of other backward classes (OBC) for Haryana and other states and granted the OBC status to Jats. While rejecting the request for inclusion of Jats in the central list of other backward classes (OBC), the NCBC had also trashed the report of the Haryana Backward Classes Commission (HBCC), which recommended 10% special backward class (SBC) quota for Jats, Jat Sikhs, Bishnois, Rors and Tyagis.

While both the decisions were aimed at winning over the large and influential Jat vote-bank, whether the Congress actually benefitted from it is highly debatable. “It might work the other way – angering the other communities and consolidating them against the Congress,” said a Haryana watcher.

Caste arithmetic

Political experts say that Jat voters have influence in over 40 assembly constituencies, including 12 reserve constituencies. The Ahirs play a decisive role in 7-9 assembly seats.

Going by each parliamentary constituency, the Scheduled Castes are the dominant force in Ambala Lok Sabha seat (reserve), while the Kurukshetra seat has dominance of Jats and Jat Sikhs.

In Karnal, it is the Jats, Punjabi Khatri and Brahmins who hold the sway, while in Sonepat seat, the Jats and Brahmins are a major factor.

It is the Jats in Rohtak seat who call the shots while in Hisar seat, it is the Jats and Brahmins. In Bhiwani-Mahendergarh seat, Jats and Ahirs are major castes while in Gurgaon seat it is the Meo-Muslims and Ahirs. In Faridabad, the Jats and Gujjars hold sway while in Sirsa (SC) it is the Jats, Jat Sikhs and Scheduled Castes, which play a crucial role.