Trying to keep their non-political impression intact, khap panchayats have, however, been vigorously playing an active role in the parliamentary polls in Haryana. The important task entrusted to them by chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who is facing a strong anti-incumbency factor against the party besides the public anger against corruption, is to mobilise people in rural areas on the plank of the Jat reservation.
In the state, especially in the Jat heartland, where chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his MP son Deepender Hooda were nearly mobbed by unemployed and well-built youths every time they visited their home turf, the job reservation plank can be a real game changer.
A glimpse to what is cooking in the minds of the Congress and khaps can be had from the public honour programme recently arranged by several khaps at Denoda village of Jind district for Hooda and state minister Randeep Surjewala (also a Jat leader) after the imposition of the model code of conduct.
Admitting that he was campaigning for CM’s son and Congress’ Rohtak Lok Sabha nominee Deepender Hooda, commandant Hawa Singh Sangwan, state president of Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti said, “If Hooda (CM) has got us reservation in the state and at the central level, we should thank him by extending our vote and support.” But there is nothing from the khap side, it is his personal choice, he added.
In Bhiwani, Jorawar Singh Sangwan, active pradhan of Sangwan khap, said Sangwan khap has been inclined towards Congress’ Bhiwani nominee Shruti Choudhry as compared candidates of other parties.
The reason, he said, is Bhiwani khaps owe allegiance to her (Shruti’s) grandfather and former chief minister late Bansi Lal, who hailed from this region, so he was actively been campaigning for her personally not from the khap side.
“It is not that members of all khaps are campaigning for the Congress. While Vedpal Advocate from the Sangwan khap in Bhiwani is seeking votes for the INLD nominee, Balwan Singh Sangwan is backing the BJP candidate and some young khap leaders are tilted towards the Aam Aadmi Party nominee,” said a prominent khap leader on the condition of anonymity.
Tusli Grewal, chief of Meham Chaubisi, reportedly the most violent khap, said the Chaubisi had a history of fielding a panchayat candidate for 40 years in parliamentary and assembly polls. After the entry of former deputy prime minister Devi Lal, the practice was stopped to avoid clashes. Alleging direct political interference in khap matters by political parties, he said presently the INLD has its own pradhan in the Chaubisi, while the Congress has its own self-styled pradhan to cash in on the votebank of the khap.
Notwithstanding the Supreme Court strictures, khap panchayats continue to hold sway in Rohtak, Jind, Sonepat, Jhajjar, Gurgaon, Hisar, Kaithal, Rewari and Kurukshetra. The reason being their direct intervention into the lives of people by organising panchayats to solve their disputes amicably.
Tek Ram Kandela, pradhan of Kandela khap, said in the past one year they have resolved more than 500 cases of murder, attempt to murder, dowry-related issues and property share row between brothers by using the platform of non-elected panchayats.
Meham Chaubisi khap went into defiance in the 1990s by sheltering Anand Singh Dangi ( now Cong ress MLA from Meham, who belongs to their khap) from police and government after he was indicted on corruption charges.
Kandela khap gave their passive support to Bharatiya Kisan Union after it locked horns with the then Indian National Lok Dal government over payment of electricity bills.
Extending reservation to Jats near the polls is an attempt by the Congress to placate Jat voters, which constitute a considerable chunk in the state.