In Jat belt, khap opinions can make or break political fortunes
The group blames a particular party for “befooling the Jat community in the name of reservation” and is mobilising people to teach the political outfit a lesson in the UP assembly elections.Updated: Jan 11, 2017 13:04 IST
A meeting is on at village Sahjoti in Shahpur, where Jat reservation activists from Haryana are trying hard to convince choudhary Rajpal Singh, head of Deshwal Khap and his son, Sharanveer, to support their cause.
The leader of the group, advocate Pratap Dahiya, is leaving no stone unturned in seeking the khap head’s blessings for the success of the Jat reservation movement in Haryana and UP.
Like many others, Dahiya knows that a khap leader – with the power to influence his entire clan – can make or break such movements.
The group blames a particular party for “befooling the Jat community in the name of reservation” and is mobilising people to teach the political outfit a lesson in the UP assembly elections.
Rajpal Singh and Sharanveer lend them a patient ear and promise their support “in the larger interest of the clan and the society”. However, they distance themselves from criticising any political party.
The meeting is not unusual for the father-son duo. Leaders, activists and members of the Deshwal Khap – which comprises 67 villages in UP – come to meet them almost every day, to discuss social and other issues.
During election season, the influx of visitors gets much bigger.
Speaking to HT, choudhary Rajpal Singh says, “We always support candidates with clean image.” He agrees that his word is important to villagers, who pass it on to their families.
Wisdom imparted over hookah
A khap or clan is usually formed by a group of people belonging to the same ‘gotra’. The role of a khap head becomes crucial during elections, when leaders of different political parties contesting the polls, especially those from within the clan, attempt to influence voters.
Respected as village elders, choudharies (khap heads) are frequently sought for their advice. Every day, rounds of discussions take place over hookah.
During poll time, it is common for political parties, their candidates and policies for farmers to be deliberated upon.
Even though choudharies avoid giving direct advice to people, clansmen often attempt to read their minds during such discussions. This helps them in setting their clan’s mood either for or against a party or a candidate.
For example, Mahendra Singh Tikait, the then head of Baliyan Khap (one of the biggest with 84 villages), is believed to have benefitted Bharatiya Janata Party in the Jat belt of UP in the 1990s, when he advised villagers to “vote in the name of Ram”.
‘Opinions sought on issues impacting lives’
Naresh Tikait, who is the head of Baliyan khap and the national president of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), a non-political organisation, says, “Choosing a party or a candidate depends entirely on what the people think. However, they respect the khap heads and want to seek their opinion and guidance on issues that impact their lives.”
Naresh adds that he will soon convene a meeting to learn the opinion of his clan ahead of the assembly polls. “The clan’s support will largely depend on the election manifestos of political parties,” he says.
Taking pride in traditions
Sitting with khap heads and Jat reservation activists, Subhash Baliyan, general secretary of Sarv khap, says, “Doab (the region lying between rivers Ganga and Yamuna) has 18 khaps. The choudharies desperately want their village youths to adhere to their traditions. For this, a team of 21 youngsters is being formed in every village, under the aegis of BKU, to sensitise the next generation about our traditions and values.”
Symbolising these values is Sarv khap’s 350-year-old chaupal, located in village Soram of Muzaffarnagar district. This is where choudharies of all khaps get together a few times every year to issue guidelines for their clans on different matters.
Subhash admits that political leaders adopt various measures to please khap heads and expand their voter base.
The recent visit of union ministers Mahesh Sharma and Sanjeev Baliyan to Sarv khap chaupal supports this claim. Not only did the visiting dignitaries honour the choudharies for their contribution towards society but also sanctioned Rs 2.3 crore for the chaupal’s renovation.
“It was good that they thought of renovating the chaupal,” says Naresh Tikait, head of Baliyan khap.
College students Sunny, Vikas and Kamal also welcome the ministers’ move. “This chaupal is a symbol of our pride and existence,” they say.
Underscoring the impact of khap heads’ views on their clans, including the younger generation, Sanjeev Sharma, a professor of political science at CCS University, says, “Khap heads act as opinion leaders for their respective clans. Youngsters respect them too. Despite having exposure to multiple media platforms, the word of the elders matters to the young generation.”