Why Jat's the way
Vipin Pubby Posted online: Wed May 12 2010, 01:37 hrs
Chandigarh : Notwithstanding Rahul Gandhi's visit to Mirchpur village,
where a polio-stricken Dalit girl and her father were burnt alive by a
mob of Jats, no party in Haryana, including the Congress, can ignore a
harsh reality: when it comes to votes, Jat's the way.
Kurukshetra's high-flying industrialist MP Naveen Jindal, a product of
the University of Texas, realises it, as much as the "sons of the
soil" Chautalas and the cautious Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh
Hooda. That explains the circle of complicit silence and implicit
acceptance around the khap panchayats, irrespective of what they have
come to represent in 21st-century India.
What may have also decided matters, prompting at least Jindal and Om
Prakash Chautala to speak up publicly for the khaps, is the panchayat
elections coming up next month. Support in rural areas would be
crucial to win the polls, and it's hardly the time to alienate the
khaps. The stakes are higher this time around because both the Indian
National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Congress are hoping to play a bigger
hand with this win behind them.
Khaps have been known to support candidates unanimously, but even the
split ones leave parties enough room for exploitation.
Comprising village leaders of the Jat community, these panchayats have
been in the news recently for their stand against same gotra marriages
and tacit support for action against those who defy the norms. Though
the khap leaders claim they have never ordered murders, these
panchayats have turned a blind eye to instances of honour killings.
However, tackling the khap panchayats is no easy task for the state
Congress. The Jats, who constitute a formidable 28-30 per cent of the
electorate, are in a position to make a difference in almost 40 per
cent of the Assembly constituencies. Their vote swing is believed to
have decided both the Congress's thumping win in 2005, as well as the
INLD's surprise resurgence in 2010.
It is this struggle for Jat votes (or at least to not annoy them) that
has seen the two main parties flexing muscle. Having nothing to lose,
Chautala has plunged headlong and supported the khaps as well as their
demand for amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act to bring in a clause
banning intra-gotra marriages. "It was proved scientifically and
medically" that such marriages were not desirable, he says, adding
that they would raise the issue at all public platforms.
Hooda and his colleagues, on the other hand, have been playing it
safe. Without taking a clear stand, the Chief Minister has been saying
that khaps have an important role in society and the government shall
not intervene in any "social issue". Worse, despite noises against
"medieval diktats" of such khaps, his government has not initiated
action against panchayats which have issued patently illegal orders
and has been soft on those accused in honour killings.
Tacitly, he has gone a step further, with one of his close aides,
Shadi Lal Batra, MP, moving a private member's resolution in the Rajya
Sabha seeking amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act.
As for Jindal, the reason one of the Congress's "promising" Young
Turks risked possible ire of the Congress high command by backing
khaps is that he was left with little choice. Khap panchayats dominate
his constituency and they had announced a gherao of his house in
Kaithal, demanding that he take an unambiguous stand on their call for
the amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same gotra marriages.
While Jindal's supporters believe his detractors within the Congress
put the khaps up to the threat, the MP decided not to take any chances
and landed up at their mahapanchayat instead. He offered to take up
their demands with the Centre.
"They are the constituents of my constituency and voted for me,"
Jindal admitted. "At this juncture, when they need my help, how can I
keep off from them? So I went there and agreed to play my role to take
the controversy to a logical end. What would they think about me if I
keep aloof?" While he clarified that he would not support any breaking
of the law by the panchayats, the two-time MP is obviously treading on
very thin ice.
"It is not a question of being personally convinced or supportive of
khaps' opinion on same gotra marriage," Jindal says. "My personal
opinion does not matter much, but their collective opinion should be
heard by the right quarters."
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