The UPA government’s decision to provide reservations in central jobs to Jats by including them in the OBC category is by no means too little, but it comes too late.
Elections for the local high school management committee have just concluded peacefully at Barvala village, with the office-bearers chosen unanimously. A group of men, primarily Jats, are sitting around, and say they often decide how to vote collectively.
Inderveer Singh, whose sister-in-law is the village head, is the group's leader. When asked about the mood for the Lok Sabha polls, he says, "There is a Narendra Modi wave. But we are waiting to see who the BJP picks as the candidate. He must be a local."
Welcoming the UPA's decision to provide reservations in central jobs to Jats by including them in the OBC category, Singh said the community was facing a crisis. "The land is fragmented. Cost of production is high but returns are low. And because we are educationally backward, we are not adequately represented in the government."
The move, however, is not enough to tilt him back to Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal, the community's traditional favourite. Jats in west UP have been unhappy with the UPA ally for not taking a more belligerent anti-Muslim stance during the Muzaffarnagar riots last year. "I have always voted for the RLD. But this time, we will vote Modi to prevent another Pakistan. If Ajit Singh had resigned then and joined us, he would have got 20 seats," says Sukhbir Singh, an elderly lawyer from Pinna village, which falls within the Bijnor Lok Sabha seat.
Sukhbir Singh belongs to the village's most prosperous Jat family. His nephew, Himanshu, had attended the September 7 Jat Mahapanchayat, notable for its inflammatory speeches. He was on a tractor which had been allegedly attacked by a group of people from the Muslim community while returning from the gathering.
His other nephew, Subodh Kumar, chips in, with a smile, "Didn't Congress spend Rs 3000 crore in Rajasthan before the elections? Did they win? Reservations will be a similar story." Another family member adds, "What use are the reservations when 90% Jat boys in the area have cases of murder, loot and rape against them?"
RLD district-level leaders appear to be well-aware of the realities.
Shuffling between phones, as he spoke to transporters to ferry supporters to a party rally later in the day, a top city leader told HT on Sunday morning, "We are in a pitiable condition in Muzaffarnagar. Jats will vote for BJP."
When asked if the reservations would help the UPA, "No. People are saying thank you, but ask them for a vote, and they say not this time." He added that the seat had fallen under the Congress quota, which had put up a Gujjar leader, Suraj Verma. "The contest will be between BJP, which will put up a Jat, and BSP's Muslim candidate, Qadir Rana."
On the day his party chairman was to justify RLD's alliance with Congress at a rally in Amroha, the district leader added, with a tinge of regret, "We should have gone with BJP."