Results of the assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana were declared today. The outcome in Haryana was far from what most exit polls had predicted. The BJP under Manohar Lal Khattar was expected to bag up to over 75 of the 90 seats on offer. Current trends indicate the party may barely end up with half that number.
Notably, the Hindutva party increased its vote share to 36 per cent from 33 per cent in 2014. The Congress, led by former Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda, too delivered a much improved performance, getting 28% of the vote as against 20% five years ago. It seems to have come at the cost of Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal.
The BJP’s rather tepid performance seems to be a manifestation of disillusionment among the Jats in particular. Newslaundry reported the complaints and concerns of the Jat voters in the run-up to the election in the story below.
October is a time of transition for the Jats in Haryana: the landed community prepares to harvest their crops. The day starts at dawn, with men walking out to the fields and women to hand pumps. Afternoons are reserved for hookah and siesta, evenings are for taking care of their cattle.
But as the state goes to Assembly polls on October 21, a political transition beckons the Jat community. In 2014, in large part due to the Jat support, the Bharatiya Janata Party swept the election and formed the government under Manohar Lal Khattar, the first non-Jat chief minister of Haryana in around 18 years. Now, though, the party seems to have fallen out of favour with the Jat community.
On October 15, at a rally in Charkhi Dadri district, Modi announced that water that should be going to the farmers of India and Haryana has been going to Pakistan for the last 70 years. “This Modi will stop that flow and divert the water to your homes,” the prime minister said. “India has the right to this water; Haryana has the right to this water.”
In Makrouli Khurd village in neighbouring Rohtak district, Jat men refuse to believe that Pakistan has a dog in this fight. “Rainfall was quite bad this year. And there is little water in the ground. There’s a shortage of water in the fields and for drinking at home,” said Vijay Singh, 40, a villager.
Another resident, Jai Narayan, 80, pointed out that the scarcity of water is also a law and order issue. “Our village is the last recipient of water from the local canal. It hardly reaches us. The villages upstream of us have been installing pipes in the canal and diverting the water into their farms. The government appoints a local beldaar to make sure such heavy diversions do not happen, but they just bribe him to look away,” claimed Narayan, his forehead creased with worry. Since the canal dried up, the village’s women have been walking to a nearby hand pump to obtain water.
Western Haryana is facing a shortage of water for fields but also drinking water. Many villages here now obtain water from tankers, for which every family has to pay about Rs 300.
Women of Makrauli Khadar village collect water from a hand pump.
In the run-up to this election, the BJP has settled on nationalism as the main issue to woo voters. At the party’s headquarters in Rohtak’s HUDA Complex, the abrogation of Article 370 to remove Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in August and the Balakot airstrikes in February are held up as the great achievements of its government. The cry goes, “Mann mai bas ek hi bhaav: Bharat mata ki jai.” Just one emotion in our hearts: long live Mother India.
But for the Jats in rural Haryana, a set of more immediate problems make up the ground reality. Besides water scarcity, the Jats – like other rural communities – are dealing with poor electricity supply, inadequate prices for their produce, lack of development, and unemployment. Because these problems are interlinked, solving just one won’t guarantee radical change.
At Makrouli Khadar’s community rest house, the villagers complain of increasing power cuts. “We get a supply between 7 pm and 5 am. Besides, there are 2-3 hours of supply for the rest of the day. Earlier, people wouldn’t pay their bills because of such a trend. But now all of us pay our bills, and yet,” said Ramher, 84, returning to his hookah.
Ten kilometres away, in Kiloi village, Jat elders claim the whole process of paying electricity bills is corrupted. Balwan Singh, 65, waves his power bills as evidence, pointing out how his bimonthly bill had never exceeded a few thousand rupees until September this year when it shot up to Rs 1,02,000. “I went to the officer at the Uttar Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam. He asked me to install a new metre because the reading might have been incorrect,” he said. “I did that and now they don’t entertain me at the Bijli Nigam.”
Balwan Singh from Rohtak’s Kiloi village.
In Rohtak’s Kiloi, as in half a dozen other villages that Newslaundry visited, the Jats are drifting towards the Congress party’s Bhupinder Hooda. The heavyweight Jat leader was Haryana’s chief minister between 2005 and 2014. “Khattar didn’t even put a brick in our village, but Hooda gave us jobs,” said Ram Karan, 66, a resident.
The lack of jobs is another common complaint across Haryana’s Jatland. In the village of Titauli, a few km north of Rohtak, residents point out that small factories producing ply, nuts and bolts, and pipes that once dotted Rohtak’s landscape have closed down. “This is what the economic crisis has done,” said Ram Chander, 75, “It has either finished or driven away cheap labour.”
Ram Chander is a landowner. He built small living quarters on his land and rented them to workers who came from states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But as factories vanished, so did the workers. His quarters have no tenants currently.
“At least we weren’t idle when Hooda came to power. He built universities, power plants and factories. But Khattar has not done any of that,” said Ashok Singh, 40, of Makrauli Kalan village. “Under Khattar’s government the labour rate increased here and labour demand declined.”
Kumar added that the BJP government reduced working hours from eight to six, but the wages also dropped. This has lowered the standard of living in rural Haryana, he complains.
The thought of finding jobs in urban Rohtak does not excite the Jats. In the villages Newslaundry visited, men below 40 years of age claimed that there are no jobs in the cities. The few there are, they say, have been taken by “outsiders”. A story often told in the Jat belt is about the filling of Sub Divisional Officers posts in Rohtak. They claim that of the 60 people who were selected, only two were from Haryana. Sandeep Arya, 35, in Makrauli rues, “Many of these people are from Gujarat. Why are they getting so many jobs in Haryana? These Gujaratis have colonised India: the prime minister is Gujarati, Home Minister is Gujarati. Ambani and Adani too are Gujarati. The last RBI chief was also Gujarati.”
Jat elders at Makrauli Khadar, Rohtak.
Agriculture, in fact, is at the heart of the distress in rural Rohtak. On the one hand, the produce is low owing to low rainfall and on the other, the state government has been reluctant to buy produce from farmers, especially paddy.
In May this year, the government sought to recharge the depleting groundwater in Haryana by incentivising farmers to grow water-economical maize instead of the water-guzzling paddy. Named Jal Hi Jeevan Hai, the scheme offered free maize and pigeon pea seeds to the farmers along with crop insurance and an assured procurement under the Minimum Support Price programme. A one-time financial assistance of Rs 2,000 per acre was also proposed.
The scheme has been far from effective. To begin with, the Jats did not shift to maize cultivation. “We grow what we need and what we want. We don’t grow what Khattar needs and Khattar wants,” said Kiloi’s Ram Karan, smirking. While poor rainfall had its part to play, the Jats allege that their fields did not get water when needed. The paddy crop went dry. Moreover, the government only procured a fraction of the paddy at the minimum support price. The rest had to be sold cheap, meaning the farmers incurred losses.
Sanjay Kumar, 45, from Makrauli Khadar said, “If I produced 50 quintals of paddy this year, the government only bought eight quintals at the official rate, that is Rs 1,900. What do I do with the rest? It either rots or I sell it at a loss.”
Ram Karan from Rohtak’s Kiloi village.
To compound the problem, groundwater levels have sunk. Today, nearly 80 per cent of the geographical area of Haryana is under cultivation and about 84 per cent of the cultivable land has irrigation facilities. After the so-called Green Revolution in the 1970s, landed farmers like the Jats shifted to growing water-intensive crops fed by an irrigation system that relied heavily on groundwater. As a result, the groundwater levels have fallen dramatically over the decades. In 2018, the Central Ground Water Board found that groundwater levels had fallen by as much as 76 per cent.
Moreover, Jat farmers allege that the water has turned “hard” and is not fit for the fields anymore. “The government, which is supposed to open up the irrigation networks for the farmers’ benefit, has actually done the opposite,” said Baldev in Kiloi. “We need watery fields in April and May and dry ones in September. But we have dry fields in April and May and flooded ones in September. The government is doing this to snatch away the livelihood of the zamindar.”
Access to drinking water has also worsened. Farmers in Makrauli claim that until a few years ago, they were supplied drinking water for 25 out of 40 days on average. It has now dropped to a mere seven days. “The Congress did not do much when it came to drinking water, but BJP has made it worse,” said Sanjay Kumar, 45.
Farmers in every village that Newslaundry visited said they would have bought drinking water with the Panchayat funds. But the funds have not arrived. The lack of panchayat funds not only worsened a drinking water problem, the villagers claimed, but also led to rural infrastructure falling into disrepair.
Under the 14th Finance Commission, village panchayats are supposed to receive direct grants of over Rs 2,00,000 crore between 2015 and 2020.
The Standing Committee on Rural Development recently tabled a report in Parliament stating that the transfer of funds to panchayats was delayed for 11 states. But the report does not mention Haryana.
Ishwar Singh from Rohtak’s Kiloi village.
The Jat agitation for reservation that reached a violent crescendo in Rohtak in 2016 has not been forgotten. The Jat men Newslaundry spoke to did not mention the agitation even once; they had to be prodded to talk about it. As the matter is now pending in the Supreme Court, the Jats said they look back at the violence during the agitation as “manufactured” to create caste polarisation. “Goli chalaayi hai Khattar ne” is a recurring complaint. “Khattar used the bullet.”
In contrast, even the most fervent BJP sympathisers among the Jats admit that Hooda’s nine years in power helped the community, except when it came to providing jobs. The Khattar government, sympathisers say, has done the opposite: it has provided jobs but not much else. Some even admit that Hooda benefited the Jats, but Khattar has worked for all Haryanavis.
With the rhetoric around nationalism reaching high decibels in the state, most of the Jats wonder what Khattar has to do with it. As Ishwar Singh in Kiloi asked: “Did Khattar do away with Article 370 or did Modi do it? Did Khattar bomb Pakistan or Modi? Modi did both. So we made him PM. Khattar did not, so we will not vote for him.”