The defeat of Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Ajit Singh and the passing away of the phase of the Chautala clan in the Lok Sabha election is an indicator of the fate of identity politics in the country. The candidate being a Jat is not enough even for the Jat voter in Jatland.
Jats have has always enjoyed a fairly good representation in politics. In 2019 general election once again, Rajasthan (7), Punjab (9), Uttar Pradesh (3), Haryana (2), Madhya Pradesh (1), Gujarat (1) and Delhi (1) have sent cumulatively 26 Jat MPs, which is almost 5% of the total strength of the Lower House. Thus, the Jat community is quite strongly represented in the Lok Sabha. However, not everything is right in the Jatland across several States.
Despite having the maximum representation in the Lok Sabha since independence, the major reason for worry in the community has been the poor performance of certain political families. They have dominated the political scene not only among the community but also at the national and State levels. The Devilal (Chautala) family (INLD and JJP), Hooda family (INC), Bansilal family (INC) and Ch Charan Singh (RLD) family have failed to send a single MP to Parliament this election.
The Rohtak seat has been retained by the Hooda family since 1991 when Bhupinder Singh Hooda became a giant killer by defeating another stalwart Jat leader (Devi Lal) at the height of his career. In this election, however, the undercurrent for the BJP was so strong that even this fortress was swept away. What’s worse for the Hooda family is that there seems to be an anti-Hooda family sentiment in the Sonepat-Rohtak region because this region saw maximum destruction during the Jat reservation stir where the name of Bhupinder Singh Hooda was floated as a mastermind behind the agitation and the resultant destruction. The Hooda family had won nine times in Rohtak out of the 14 Lok Sabha elections the constituency has seen. If there is ever a definition of an electoral fortress, it was Rohtak for this family.
The defeat at Sonepat seat is crushing not only due to a victory margin of over 1.5 lakh votes but due also to the fact, that seven out of nine Vidhan Sabha constituencies belong to the opposition. It was expected that a strong candidate like Bhupinder Singh Hooda would win this seat.
The defeat of Dushyant Chautala, great-grandson of former deputy PM Chaudhary Devilal and grandson of former Haryana CM Omprakash Chautala in Hisar are shocking for the community as it marks the end of an era, where no one would represent the family in the Lok Sabha. He was also expected to do better as he recently became the face of the new party JJP, which has effectively replaced the INLD.
Haryana politics has thus gone under a tectonic shift and next assembly elections are now poised to throw even bigger surprises, and for now, it can be safely assumed that all is not good for dynasty politics in Haryana.
Like Haryana, in West UP also, there has been a dominance of this community and it has been solely represented by the Ajit Singh and his family after the demise of his father and former PM of India, Chaudhary Charan Singh. He is now staring at the near dead-end of his family politics and for the last 2 years, the family has no representation in either UP state assembly or Lok Sabha. And it is going to continue after the general election as well. Western UP has a significant Jat, Muslim, and SC population; which should have benefitted the father-son duo at Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat respectively, due to their caste-based coalition (mahagathbandhan) with BSP and SP.
New leadership in the community now must emerge, and the community must also understand that few families alone can’t raise their issues properly. Powerful family clan begin with certain stalwarts and it is commonly observed that by the third generation of those stalwarts the charisma and command evaporate and hence family politics is not likely to extend beyond 3-4 decades, in most cases.
The general elections have proven that the voter has a mind of his own and he can’t be assumed to be a herd that can be commandeered forever. Voter loyalty now seems to be with their personal issues and other meta-identities than the mere caste factor. For example, women increasingly are now voting independently; many reward candidates who raise women-centric issues. Similarly, the Hindu identity has become an equally important meta-identity. People now prefer candidates of other castes over their own, based on how well a party is pushing their issues.
Also, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said in his victory speech, this result has dusted many theories and victory formula and arithmetic, and it is going to have a domino effect on caste and other identity-based politics in the times to come.