Closing their eyes on a 2011 Supreme Court ruling which came down heavily on khap panchayats — likening them to kangaroo courts — political parties across the spectrum, including the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) continue to keep this powerful vote bank in good humour.
Days after union finance minister P Chidambaram called khap panchayats retrograde organisations and not part of the country’s culture, Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda also of the Congress defended them. He said they were very much part of Indian culture and equated their role with those of NGOs and residents’ welfare associations.
Outfits with clout
The dilemma Hooda or Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Om Prakash Chautala face is understandable. Both being Jat leaders, they don’t want to antagonise the influential khap panchayats — now primarily a conglomeration of Jat clans.
Jats in Haryana are a dominant caste, forming about 25% of the state's population. Since 1996, the state has successively been ruled by Jat chief ministers. In fact, Hooda’s Jat tag is one reason why he was chosen as chief minister by the Congress high command.
While the stance of Jat political leaders towards khaps is expected, the posture adopted by AAP is inexplicable. AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal recently said he doesn’t see the need to ban khap panchayats because “they serve a cultural purpose”.
AAP’s endorsement of khaps is also the outcome of some harsh words used by khap leaders telling AAP not to take their support for granted. “It is very simple. No political party or leader would like to upset the khaps. That’s what AAP is also doing. Except the CPM, which has been critical of the khaps, every other political party has been soft on them,’’ said political scientist Ranbir Singh, formerly of Kurukshetra University.
While khaps are not overtly stepping into the electoral scene, several prominent khap chiefs have clear political affiliations and ambitions.
Om Prakash Dhankhar, pradhan of the Dhankhar khap is linked to the Congress and regularly participates in party programmes. Sube Singh Samain, spokesperson of the sarv khap panchayat, Santosh Dahiya, national president of the women’s cell of the khap panchayat, Tek Ram Kandela, pradhan of the Kandel khap owe allegiance to the INLD. Sunil Jaglan, former pradhan of the Nogama khap and sarpanch of Bibipur village is inclined towards AAP.
Under fire for decreeing ‘honour’ killings, khap panchayats are in an image makeover mode. They probably got their first commendation in 2012 when they vowed to fight the menace of female foeticide.
Bibipur village of Jind district organised a mahakhap mahapanchayat to administer an oath to members to end female foeticide. The Haryana government also offered Rs 1 crore as assistance for correcting the child sex ratio in their area.
Bibipur’s initiative prompted other khaps to follow them. On January 29 this year, the Meham Chaubisi – khap organisations of 24 villages – organised a seminar on ‘honour’ killings, inviting university scholars to brainstorm on the menace.