Four months ago, nobody had imagined that the Jats of western Uttar Pradesh, who had gravitated to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last decade, would turn away from the party. One possibility is that the BJP is taking the farmers’ protest lightly, but what can be definitely said now is that the movement (stir against farm laws) which started with Sikhs from Punjab is now being taken forward by Jats from Haryana and western UP.
An evidence of the shift towards Jat politics is the sudden rise of Rakesh Tikait, a Jat leader and national spokesperson for Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU). Of all the farmer leaders, Tikait is the only one making headlines these days. Who would have imagined that Tikait’s tear-jerk reaction could mobilise thousands of farmers and make them stand by him to safeguard the honour of the Jat community in particular and the farming community in general.
Earlier, Tikait was close to the BJP. He had also organised a ‘mahapanchayat’ in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 after clashes between Jats and Muslims. The ‘mahapanchayat’ deepened the divide between the two communities, which helped the saffron party to establish itself in UP.
While Tikait helped the BJP, he himself contested on the Ajit Singh-headed Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) ticket in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Most of the RLD candidates, including Tikait, got washed away in the Modi wave. Tikait, however, continued to support the BJP till 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Jats from western UP have been supporting BJP for the last decade, but today, the Jats in UP, lead by Tikait, have turned their backs on the BJP because of farm laws. Tikait has vowed to sit at Delhi’s border till October with families joining him from the hinterland every day.
One big visible change is that Jat families, which had moved towards the BJP in 2013, today vow not to be taken in by ‘anti-Pakistan or anti-Muslim propaganda’ of the party in the next elections. They openly talk about having been ‘misled’ by the BJP.
Satbir Chaudhary, a Jat farmer from Muzzafarnagar district in UP, told The Federal, “We have been carried away by the fake nationalism in the last decade. Now we know the consequences of it. The BJP government neglected every other issue, and the Hindu-Muslim divide has been created just to get the votes. We were earlier misled by the BJP to fight against our Muslim brothers, but not anymore.”
BJP’s loss is RLD’s gain
Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) has started regaining its lost sheen in the western UP. A cautious resumption of relationship has begun between the Muslims and the Jats estranged by the Muzaffarnagar violence. Muslim farmers, who had left the BKU to form their own organization, are now reaching out to the Tikaits again, and the Jats are responding with an apology.
Jats form 17% of the population in Western UP, which holds 77 of the state’s 403 seats; the community is seen as deciders in about 50 seats. “The BJP may feel it can ride the anger of the Jats since they are not numerically large enough, unless other communities join hands with them. However, one must not forget that the Jat-Muslim combination was the keystone to Chaudhury Charan Singh’s politics which helped him in installing non-Congress governments from Punjab to Bihar in 1967,” said Neerja Chowdhury, a senior political commentator.
“It is early days yet, but RLD’s Jayant Chaudhary has already reached out to Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, exploring the possibility of an alliance in the 2022 UP elections, which could give them an electoral advantage in western and central UP,” Neerja added.
Jats in Haryana are furious too
The discontent among Jats of western UP has had a ripple effect in Haryana. Though farmers from Haryana had joined their fellow farmers from Punjab in the protest on Delhi borders, Tikait’s tears widened and intensified their involvement.
Unlike in western UP, where the RLD is openly participating in the mahapanchayats, Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda has been active behind the scenes as he does not want the fight to become a Jat versus non-Jat battle, which could go to the BJP’s advantage. He knows that along with Jats, he will also have to retain the support of the non-Jats.
Hooda is clearly seen as the tallest Jat leader today in Haryana as Dushyant Chautala has lost ground by continuing in the Khattar government. Farmers in Haryana have boycotted BJP-Jannayak Janata Party (JJP). Jats, who enjoy about 25% strength in Haryana, form the single largest community in the state and have always been able to capture a substantial share in the power game. Jats have an influence on 45 seats out of all 90 in Haryana.
“The people of Haryana, especially Jats, are ultra nationalists. Haryana contributes the most to the Indian Army and Navy in terms of manpower. BJP always used hyper-nationalism moves like surgical strike, the abolishment of article 370, 35-A for their political gains in the state. They also used a Jat vs non-Jat narrative in non-Jat areas in which they have succeeded to a great extent,” said Rohtas Nagura, a political analyst.
Rohtas added, “The Jat community has always been against hollow rituals. The farm is their temple, farmers their gods, and physical strength is their spirituality. Now the BJP has gone against the farmers due to farm laws and Jats have gone against the BJP as they think BJP has used them for their political gains by instigating fake nationalism.”
‘Mahapanchayat’ has become a new tool for political mobilisation. These ‘mahapanchayats’ and farmer’s protest in Haryana have helped the revival of khap panchayats. It may be known that the khaps hold a special power at the local level in Haryana. People follow and listen to khap leaders more than they listen to legislators.
There are almost 120 khaps in Haryana, spread across nine districts, which make up the state’s Jat belt — Jind, Rohtak, Sonepat, Rewari, Mahendragarh, Charkhi Dadri, Hisar, Bhiwani and Jhajjar. A khap was traditionally considered to include 84 villages. However, Khaps of Haryana believe in harmony among all 36 castes or religions in the state, including Muslims, Sikhs, but Jats have majorly dominated them.
The farmer protests augur well for khaps and Jats in Haryana as they seem to be coming back to prominence in state politics, which lost its political and social influence in the last six years when ML Khattar, who is a non-Jat, came to power. But farmers’ protest revived the Jat’s dominance and khaps in the state which is a sign of worry for Khattar’s government.
The khaps always batted for a Jat chief minister be it, Chaudhary Devi Lal, Om Prakash Chautala or Bhupinder Singh Hooda. However, the khaps also rooted out Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lokdal (INLD) party from Haryana politics as they did not stand by the farmers, but in his place, they chose Hooda as their CM, another Jat.
In the past two months, like INLD, all khaps across Haryana have announced the social boycott of various BJP and JJP leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala. “The revival of khaps will benefit Hooda as in the state khaps has an influence on 40 assembly seats out of all 90,” said Nagura.
“It is early days to assess the political impact of the farmers’ stir. It has weakened the BJP in Punjab, dented it in Haryana, and damaged it in western UP. That is not good news for the party because elections are due in UP and Punjab in a year’s time. At this stage, what can be said with certainty is this: A churning is underway in India’s Jat heartland and it is against the BJP,” said Neerja.