They may be in the wrong side of the law often for their medieval diktats, but khaps seem to be invincible in Haryana politics. A khap diktat, considered the last word in most part of the state, generates fear among political parties too in the run up to the elections. The recent mollycoddling of the khaps by leaders across political spectrum amply proves this point.
Jats in Haryana form 22-25 per cent of the state’s population and have, traditionally, enjoyed an influential role in the government formation. They have a big say in different shades of khaps, and the role of non-Jat khaps can’t be undermined too. (A khap is a council of villages based on gotras or sub-castes.)
There are around 20 main khap clusters in the state—of almost all the gotras. This steady role has been the mainstay of political leaders in the state and it is this fear that prohibits them from taking on khaps even if the decisions they take are not seen to be acceptable socially or otherwise. All political parties—be it the Congress, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), BJP or the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)—try to woo the khaps since they command a sizable vote bank in the hinterlands. Of the 10 Lok Sabha seats, they have total influence over five—Rohtak, Sonepat, Bhiwani, Hisar and Gurgaon. In the rest of the seats, their influence though is not negligible. Little wonder, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda recently equated khap panchayats with NGOs. “Khap panchayats are like NGOs as we have Resident Welfare Associations. They are part of our culture,” he said.
The stand of Jat leaders towards khaps is understandable, but the posture adopted by AAP is inexplicable. Party chief Arvind Kejriwal said he didn’t see the need to ban khap panchayats because they serve a cultural purpose. Nevertheless, the khaps turned down AAP’s invitation to join their Rohtak rally. Reacting to it, Rajeev Godara of AAP’s Haryana unit said, “We invited all sections of the society in the rally. Khaps are non-political bodies and they go by various parameters.”
Sunil Jaglan, sarpanch of Bibipur gram panchayat and leader of Nogna Khap in Jind, says: “People will follow those political parties that mention in their manifesto their stand on social issues like female foeticide, Hindu Marriage Act and honour killings.” Khaps have been demanding amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same-gotra marriages; they had last year justified honour killing of a young couple in Rohtak. Earlier they were opposed to death penalty for rapists. Also, the Barha Khap Panchayat of Jhajjar district had issued a diktat to bar girls from wearing jeans and using mobile phones. President of Chaubisi Sarvkhap Panchayat, Meham (the oldest and most powerful khap), Tulsi Grewal agrees with Jaglan. He says, “Not only will the khaps but the people will also support the parties which take up social issues in their manifesto.”
The dominance of Jats in the state politics explains the ambivalent attitude of the major political parties—especially the Congress and INLD—towards khaps.
Till date Haryana has seen only three non-Jat chief ministers—Bhajan Lal, Bhagwat Dayal Sharma and Rao Birender Singh.
Trying to play down the khaps’ influence in the state’s political firmament, Haryana Congress President and MP Ashok Tanwar said, “Everyone is linked to khaps in the state in one way or the other. They are just cultural bodies which do a lot of good work for the people.”