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August 31, 1999


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Jats dictate the verdict in Jhunjhunu region

The farming community of Jats has emerged as a dominant factor in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, that its swing will determine the fate of the candidates in the Lok Sabha elections.

Ironically, the region, comprising Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu districts, is the native place of the country's most successful rich business community, the Marwaris. The Birlas, Dalmias, Morarkas, Bangur, Khaitan, Kedias, Podar, Singhanias, Modis and Goenkas and scores of lesser known industrialists belong to this region, especially Jhunjhunu. The area is also known as 'house of soldiers', since joining the armed forces has been a tradition among the people here.

Almost 40 per cent of the soldiers from Rajasthan who laid down their lives in the Kargil conflict belonged this area.

Juxtaposed between these two potent ground realities, the Jats, who outnumber other communities, are an upcoming social group in economic terms too. But they are now in an agitated mood and the community has been put on the warpath by the Jat Mahasabha. The issue is a movement for securing the Other Backward Class status for them, which will get them 27 per cent reservation in government jobs.

Traditionally supporters of the Congress since independence, Jats now point an accusing finger at the Congress for denying them ''reservation rights''. This has put in jeopardy what would otherwise have been a cakewalk for Congress heavyweight candidates -- Balram Jakhar from Sikar and former Union minister Sis Ram Ola from Jhunjhunu. Incidentally both leaders are Jats.

The Jats, who constitute around 30 per cent of the electorate in this region, are out to assume the role the Yadavs had at one time in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in changing the political skyline, a JMS supporter claims. According to him, psephologists base their calculations for this region on the vote swing. The caste factor is so naked here that even political activists rarely hesitate to campaign on the basis of social groupings. Thus the main political contenders -- Congress and BJP -- have drawn their candidates from the Jat community. Any deviation from this ''thumb rule'' is considered as being inspired by some extraneous political and electoral factors.

In the Lok Sabha constituency of Sikar, known as the 'nerve-centre' of Jats, all three main contenders are from the community. The Congress has pitted Balram Jakhar, a Jat landlord originally from Punjab, the BJP's Subhash Maharia is a local Jat while the CPI-M has fielded its Dhod MLA Amra Ram, also a Jat.

Similarly in the adjoining Jhunjhunu, another local Jat, a senior politician and former Union minister Sis Ram Ola, is the Congress candidate. He is being given a tough time by a woman Jat leader, Sumitra Singh who has always remained his arch-rival and is currently an independent MLA from Jhunjhunu. She had defeated Ola's son in the assembly elections. The selection of BJP candidate Banwari Lal Saini a non-Jat from his constituency has been outweighed by other considerations like non-availability of towering Jat leaders, dissension in the party and attempts to win over other communities to the BJP fold.

The community factory also influenced the selection of Churu constituency where main contenders Ram Singh Kaswa of the BJP and Narendra Bidania of the Congress also belong to the Jat community.

Political observers say that the Jat factor found in a "concentrated form'' in this region has a peripheral impact on the election results of other adjoining constituencies, viz, Nagaur, Bikaner, Ganganagar. In all, Jats have a definite political say in half of the 25 constituencies in the state.

The forceful emergence of the JMS demanding reservations, has pitchforked the community into the limelight. It had, in the process, stolen the thunder from Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who came to power riding on an anti-BJP wave barely eight months ago. Political observers feel the JMS has come to wield sufficient clout after a largely attended rally at Jaipur on August 1 in which they pledged to defeat the Congress candidate ''for obstructing the grant of OBC reservation status to the community.''

Gehlot is yet to implement his election promise of according OBC status to the Jats. Ultimately, party president Sonia Gandhi had to make a public commitment during the election rally held on August 25 at Sikar that the state government would provide reservation to Jats.

The BJP has also announced support for reservations. However, Congress leaders are perturbed over the anti-Congress pronouncements of the Jat Mahasabha. Ola accused the JMS leaders of being least concerned about the genuineness of reservations. He claimed that he was the first to get the reservation recommendation from the Union Welfare Minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia during the Deve Gowda government at the Centre. Ola, who was himself a minister in the Union government at that time, is at pains to explain through the circulation of documents that the notification to the reservation recommendation was withheld only because of the chief election commissioner's intervention during the March 1998 polls. He blamed the Vajpayee government for not notifying the recommendations during its 13-month rule.

The CPI-M, however, criticised the role of the JMS leaders for campaigning ''indirectly in favour of the BJP.'' But the Marxists too don't want to lag behind in claiming their whole-hearted support to the reservation issue on the plea that the community is socially and economically backward.

On the other hand, Mohan Singh belonging to the Rajput community jeered at the demand for the reservation for Jats saying. ''Gone are the days when Jats were discriminated against -- now they are well off... They dominate the civil services and are over-represented in the armed forces.''

Ola himself admits that his community is now more literate with at least 26 per cent education among the girls, a higher ratio compared to the other communities. The rise of Jat power has led to reduction in the clout of Marwari ''seths''. ''Jats had diminished politically when a non-entity Jat leader defeated K K Birla in the 1971 parliamentary elections, from Jhunjhunu by a big margin. Thereafter no 'seth' ever dared to contest election from this region.

Members of other communities like Rajputs, Mali, Brahmins, Yadavs, Darji, Kumawat, Sunar, who collectively constitute around 70 per cent of the electorate resent the way the Jats are raising their reservation issue. A political observer summed up the situation: "It is difficult to assess now what shape the boiling social cauldron will take.... But caste considerations and populistic approach adopted by the political parties have relegated the democratic issues to the background''.



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