Caste arithmetic at play in Hry

| | Chandigarh
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Caste arithmetic at play in Hry

Tuesday, 30 April 2019 | Nishu Mahajan | Chandigarh

In Haryana, the caste equations have always predominantly been the X-factor in shaping the poll outcomes.

All political parties in the state have carefully worked-out caste arithmetic while picking candidates to win the 10 Lok Sabha seats of Jatland-Haryana, which goes to polling on May 12.

Out of 10 Lok Sabha seats, two seats namely Ambala and Sirsa are reserved constituencies

It is no secret that the state is bitterly divided on caste lines following the violent Jat reservation agitation 2016 and the Jat vs non-Jat divide will play a key role in outcome of the ensuing Lok Sabha polls.

In the agrarian milieu of Haryana, Jats are counted as the dominant vote bank constituting about 29 percent of state’s population (around 25 percent of the electorate) and stated to have always polarized behind a favoured Jat leader in the maze of state politics.

The community has dominated the state politics with Haryana witnessing the rule of Jat CMs Bansi Lal, Om Prakash Chautala and Bhupinder Singh Hooda in the past three decades.

While around 25 percent of total electorate in Haryana are Jats, the remaining 75 percent are non-Jats, which include Dalits, Brahmins, Yadavs, Gujjars, Baniyas, Rajputs among others. Dalits voters form around 20 percent in the state.

As per the election trends, the Jat vote bank has traditionally voted for the Congress and rival Indian National Lok Dal.  After INLD’s split, its splinter group Jannayak Janta Party is further segregating the Jat votes.

On the other hand, the ruling BJP, which has in the previous elections proved that non-Jat voters can be kingmakers, is primarily focusing on consolidation of this vote bank in its favor.

In the past, former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal, a non-Jat had managed to become a potential non-Jat option for the voters but now, the BJP has been trying to capture the non-Jat space in Haryana under Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who belongs to Punjabi community.

The case in point is BJP’s nominees in Jat-dominated constituencies. In Jat-dominated Rohtak parliamentary seat, the BJP has fielded Arvind Sharma, a Brahmin candidate against three-time MP Deependra Singh Hooda, a Jat. The other two political parties, INLD and Jannayak Janta Party-Aam Aadmi Party alliance have stick to the grand old formula of fielding Jat candidates in the Rohtak seat, a Jat stronghold. Loktantra Suraksha Party-Bahujan Samaj Party, an alliance formed to consolidate Dalit and backward classes voters in the state, has fielded Kishan Lal Panchal, who comes from the Vishwakarma community, a backward class.

In neighboring Jat stronghold- Sonipat Lok Sabha seat also, the BJP has re-nominated its Brahmin candidate, Ramesh Kaushik, who faces a tough electoral battle against Congress’ prominent Jat face, former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The JJP-AAP has given ticket to a Jat candidate Digvijay Chautala while the INLD has also fielded a Jat candidate in Sonipat. The outgoing MP Ramesh Kaushik had emerged victorious riding on the Modi wave and polarisation of non-Jat and urban votes in the BJP’s favour in 2014 polls.

Chief Minister Manohar Lal’s home turf, Karnal, which is witnessing a prestige battle has BJP’s Punjabi face Sanjay Bhatia, Congress’ Brahmin candidate Kuldeep Sharma, JJP-AAP’s candidate Krishan Agarwal from Baniya community and INLD’s Dharamvir Padha, a Jat in the fray. Pankaj Chaudhary, candidate of BSP-LSP alliance comes from a Ror community, who are present in a sizeable number in the constituency. Karnal seat is considered a Brahmin constituency, as most of the MPs elected from the seat belonged to this community.

Hisar Lok Sabha seat, which has always seen strong caste polarization in the past elections, has two prominent Jats and one non-Jat candidate from influential political families of Haryana. Termed as “clash of clans”, the three-cornered electoral battle in Hisar has BJP’s Jat candidate Brijendra Singh, son of Union Minister Birender Singh, JJP-AAP’s candidate Dushyant Chautala, a Jat from Chautala clan while Congress has fielded non-Jat Bhavya Bishnoi, grandson of former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal, banking on the strategy of non-Jat polarization. The INLD has fielded a Jat candidate as well while BSP-LSP combine has given ticket to a Brahmin candidate.

Bhiwani-Mahendragarh parliamentary constituency is another Jat dominated seat with BJP and Congress reposing faith in Jat candidates namely outgoing MP Dharambir Singh and former MP Shruti Choudhry respectively.  Both INLD and JJP-AAP alliance have fielded OBC candidates in Bhiwani-Mahendragarh, eyeing the Ahir votes, who also constitute a major chunk of the electorate in the constituency.

In Gurugram parliamentary seat, where electoral fate hinges on Ahirs and Meo Muslim voters deciding the eventual winner, the BJP’s senior Ahirwal leader and Union Minister Rao Inderjit Singh is facing Congress’ Ahirwal leader Capt. Ajay Yadav. JJP-AAP alliance and BSP-LSP combine have fielded Muslim candidates namely, Mehmood Khan and Rais Ahmad respectively while the INLD’s candidate is Virendra Rana, a Rajput.

Kurukshetra, famous as the battlefield of Mahabharata and land of the Bhagavad Gita, has BJP’s Minister of State Nayab Saini, Congress’ former Minister Nirmal Singh and INLD’s Arjun Chautala, a Jat candidate from Chautala clan in the fray. The BSP-LSP has fielded Shashi Saini while the JJP-AAP’s candidate is Jai Bhagwan Sharma. The constituency which had in past general elections elected BJP’s Raj Kumar Saini, who comes from OBC community, this year has two Jats, two OBCs and one Brahmin candidate in the electoral contest.

Faridabad parliamentary seat, which has a large number of Jat and Gujjar voters, has two prominent Gujjar leaders namely BJP’s nominee Krishan Pal Gurjar and Congress’ Avtar Singh Bhadana pitted against each other. Among others in the poll battle included JJP-AAP’s nominee Naveen Jaihind, a Brahmin, INLD’s Rajput candidate and BSP-LSP’s Jat nominee in the constituency.

In Haryana, which is witnessing a multi-cornered contest with BJP, Congress, INLD, JJP-AAP, BSP-LSP combine, flexing muscles to win the 2019 polls, it will be interesting to see which political party have  set the caste equation right.

Political analysts feel that the caste politics will play a key role during general elections, with the state of Haryana, bitterly divided on caste lines following the violent Jat quota agitation 2016.

They say that with the dominant Jat community unhappy with the ruling party due to their unfulfilled demands, the BJP has fielded candidates focusing on cobbling together other castes including Dalits, Brahmins, Ahirs, Gujjars, Baniyas among others to win the polls in Haryana.

With opposition not united in Haryana and Jat votes remaining divided, it would be interesting to see how the non-Jat social engineering work in the elections this time, the political observers say.

Notably, the saffron party, which was riding high on the Narendra Modi wave in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections had won seven seats out of 10 Lok Sabha seats.

The BJP had contested eight seats out of 10 and left Hissar and Sirsa to its alliance partner at that time, Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) of former CM Bhajan Lal. While the HJC lost both seats to the INLD, the BJP won seven seats, losing the Rohtak seat to Deepender Hooda of the Congress.

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