Delhi's Jats: From farmers to determined political climbers

| | New Delhi
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Delhi's Jats: From farmers to determined political climbers

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 | Rajesh Kumar | New Delhi

To begin with they had the land. Then there was a property boom, which made them prosperous as land became the new gold mine. The wealth drove them to aspire for status symbols like flashy cars and it was only a matter of time before political ambitions took root.

Villages and urban colonies from Narela to Mehrauli in outer Delhi are considered a Jat heartland in the national Capital. Caste has traditionally been an important tool of political mobilisation here. Jats, who comprise 5.5 per cent of Delhi’s total electorate, would play a major role in several constituencies bordering the city, where party affiliations and the standing of a candidate are secondary. If a candidate succeeds in convincing the village panchayat to support him, more than half his work is done.

Tied to his village and caste identity, the voter in these constituencies does not have much of a say as the village panchayat’s decision is a diktat for them. Once the panchayat decides to support a candidate, it ensures an active campaign in support of the candidate, which is sometimes organised without his knowledge. Interestingly, the candidate list of both Congress and BJP shows that Jats have emerged as one of the most determined political climbers despite their modest population.

Since 1993, when Delhi Vidhan Sabha came into existence, political parties like the Congress and BJP have given representation to Jat community leaders. The BJP made Devendra Shokeen Minister for Transport and Sahib Singh Verma Chief Minister and a Cabinet Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government.

The Sheila Dikshit-led Government had Yoganand Shastri and Deep Chand Bandhu as ministers. Shastri is currently the Speaker of the Delhi Assembly. Similarly, the community has elected only Jat leaders from Outer Delhi, whether it was Choudhary Dilip Singh, Sajjan Kumar from Congress or Sahib Singh Verma.

Chaudhary Tarif Singh who won in 1989 on a Janata Dal ticket too was a Jat. Kumar, the three-time Member of Parliament from Outer Delhi, took the plunge into politics in the late 1970s when the Capital’s political scene was mostly dominated by Congress leaders Choudhary Dilip Singh, Heera Singh and Deep Chand Bandhu, all Jat leaders.

Kumar was quick to register his presence, surprisingly being nominated as the Congress lok Sabha candidate for Outer Delhi in 1980. The stage was set for a long political innings for Kumar, but the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, and the allegations of inciting the mob in the aftermath of the murder, proved to be an indelible scar on his political career.

Kumar was considered a close confidante of Sanjay Gandhi. He continued to enjoy the support of local leaders and the cadres even while Singh represented Outer Delhi for five years. In 1991, the Congress was left with no option but to bet on Kumar again. He delivered by defeating the BJP’s Sahib Singh Verma, who later went on to become the face of Jat leadership in the saffron party and Delhi’s Chief Minister.

Kumar, however, lost to the BJP’s Krishan lal Sharma in 1996 and 1998. In 1999, the Congress dumped Kumar for Deep Chand Sharma, who lost to BJP’s Verma. In 2004, Kumar and Verma came face-to-face in an electoral battle of two Jat stalwarts and the former emerged as the clear winner. Kumar was announced as the Congress candidate for the 2009 lok Sabha elections, but his party was forced to change its mind at the last moment owing to the Sikh community’s anger over the decision.

The trifurcation of the Outer Delhi lok Sabha constituency in 2008, which was once the largest Parliamentary constituency in the country, dealt a severe blow to the dominance of Jat politics in Delhi. Moreover, with the influx of migrants, the demographics of the constituencies have also changed and migrant groups like Poorvanchalis have come to have a greater say in regional politics. Jat-dominated Assembly constituencies now spread over three Parliamentary constituencies, namely South Delhi, New Delhi and West Delhi.

Political experts say that the rise of the Jat community in the political arena has been happening for a while now and the booming property market has left many of them with surplus cash that makes political power possible. Add to it the fact that the communities live in a concentrated way - they are important is just about 10-odd constituencies - and also come out to vote in good numbers.

Keeping in view the Jat-dominated constituencies, both the Congress and BJP are wooing Jats assiduously for the Vidhan Sabha polls. Constituencies like Narela, Bawana, Kirari, Mundka, Nangloi, Najafgarh, Vikaspuri, Matiala, Bijwasan, Mehrauli, RK Puram have a sizable Jat community.

In the 2008 Assembly polls, Congress retained six Jat-dominated seats that include Jaswant Rana from Narela, Master Bijender Singh from Nangloi Jat, Kanwar Karan Singh from Model Town, Yoganand Shastri from Mehrauli, Sumesh Shokeen from Matiala, Barkha Singh from RK Puram and Nand Kishore Ahlawat from Vikaspuri. It has only lost the Bijwasan seat where Vijay lochav lost to Sat Prakash Rana of BJP. Similarly, the BJP won the Rithala, Mundka and Bijwasan seat.

Strangely, the number of constituencies where both the Congress and the BJP candidates come from the Jat community are limited to seven. However, there are many others like Rithala, Mundka, RK Puram, Narela, Delhi Cantonment and Model Town where Jat candidates are pitted against opponents from other communities. In the Jat heartland, a number of factors such as denial of election tickets to local candidates by prominent political parties, differences of senior leaders with their party over ticket distribution, and the role of rebel candidates would play a major role in determining the results of the December 4 polls.

For the December 4 Assembly polls in Delhi, the BJP has announced Jat candidates from Jat-dominated seats. It has fielded Neel Daman Khatri from Narela, Manoj Shokeen from Mundka, Kulwant Rana from Rithala, Kishan Gehlot from Vikas Puri, Rajesh Gehlot from Matiala, Ajit Khadkhadi from Najafgarh, Sat Prakash Rana from Bijwasan, Dharam Dev Solanki from Palam and Pravesh Verma from Mehrauli.

The Congress has also fielded Yoganand Shastri from Mehrauli, Vijay lochav from Bijwasan, Master Bijender Singh from Nangloi Jat, Naresh Kumar from Mundka, Jaswant Rana from Narela and Somesh Shokeen from Matiala. Besides, the party has also given tickets to Jat candidates from non-Jat seats such as Kanwar Karan Singh who is contesting from Model Town, a pro-Bania seat in North Delhi and Barkha Singh from RK Puram.

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