'Want Modi, But Need Chaudhary': Divided After Riots, Muzaffarnagar Jats Fight to Keep 'Proud' Flock Together
In 2014, the Jats of western UP had abandoned their old caste equations and hitched their wagon to a rising BJP. In the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls, this agrarian community may prove to be the key swing vote in UP.
File photo of Ajit Singh
Muzaffarnagar: Twenty kilometres south-west of Muzaffarnagar city, lie the twin villages of Kutbi-Kutba. Like the Jats that form the majority in these villages, Kutbi and Kutba are indivisible. It’s impossible to tell when one village ends and another begins.
“Kutba and Kutbi are one village. There is no boundary between them. You can’t distinguish one village from another,” says Vipin Singh Balyan, a Jat activist and resident of Kutba. Twnety-five-year-old Ravi from Kutbi adds, “Kutbi and Kutba are like brothers.”
Once indistinguishable from one another, Kutbi and Kutba now stand divided on one very significant front — politics. Sociologically speaking, both are Jat dominated villages. But while Kutba stands with Chaudhary Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, Kutbi has hoisted the BJP flag on its rooftops. Kutbi is, after all, the home of local BJP MP and Muzaffarnagar riots-accused Sanjeev Balyan.
“This village belonged to another party earlier. Now it belongs to the BJP. It became a BJP village after the riots. Nobody cared for us after the riots, except Sanjeev Balyan and BJP. He even went to jail with us,” says Rajbir Singh, who is Balyan’s neighbor in Kutbi.
But in Kutba, Satish Balyan, a sugarcane farmer, believes there is “only one Jat” in politics. “There are no Jats in BJP. The only Jat is Chaudhary sahib, there are no other Jats in politics. Jats will be wiped out if Ajit loses. Bollywood has Dharmendra, politics has Ajit Singh – there are only two Jats in India,” he says.
In 2014, the Jats of western UP had abandoned their old caste equations and hitched their wagon to a rising BJP. In the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls, this agrarian community may prove to be the key swing vote in UP. But not unless they themselves are a house divided.
Ravi Balyan is the odd one out amongst his friends. In a group of BJP supporters, he sticks out like a sore thumb as an RLD supporter. “Modi made too many promises but hasn’t fulfilled anything. From Rs 15 lakh to petrol prices to Article 370, none have been fulfilled. Air strikes have happened earlier also but governments never publicised them,” he says.
“I will vote for BJP and my entire village will vote for BJP. The party has worked here. Our MP Sanjeev Balyan stood with us after the riots. Crime has ended in our region,” one of the supporters say. But have Jats got their due under the BJP? “Not just Jats, all Hindus have got respect under BJP. BJP avenged our martyrs after Pulwama. We’re happy to hear of such action being taken,” he adds.
Unlike that of Mohit and Ravi, some friendships broke under the strain of politics. Sanjeev Balyan became a local Hindutva hero after the riots and won the 2014 election from Muzaffarnagar. Vipin Singh Balyan, a Kutba resident, campaigned for his friend when he got a BJP ticket. But the bitterness grew and they are now adversaries. Vipin Balyan is now campaigning for the RLD.
“He was like my brother. But then he became arrogant. He considers himself above the community. He said he was an MP, not a Jat. This caused discord between us. He told me I had no standing and people like me refill his hookah. This is why I have left his side and have vowed to defeat him,” Vipin Balyan says.
This discord has affected both villages. Around 50 youth from Kutba are implicated in riot cases. They blame their brethren in Kutbi for this. They claim Kutbi used the fact that the MP is from their village to help their boys go scott-free. Kutba’s Jats, they claim, became political pawns.
“The damage (in the riots) mostly took place in our village. Even the people from Kutbi caused damage here. The Muslims that were killed were killed by people from Kutbi. We didn’t kill them. The minister (Sanjeev Balyan) had promised that he would get the cases resolved but that hasn’t happened. Now there is chattees ka ankda (enmity) between Kutbi and Kutba. There is a world of a difference between us and them. We are educated, they are not. We are straightforward people, they are more cunning. Earlier, we used to sit with each other. But now it is not the same. Why would there not be enmity when they come to our village and cause trouble,” Satish says bitterly.
This feeling of disillusionment has meant that many of Kutba’s Jats are now gravitating towards their old party – the Rashtriya Lok Dal. The party’s chief Ajit Singh is contesting the 2019 election here and as the son of Chaudhary Charan Singh, the only Jat to ascend the Prime Minister’s post, he brings with him a powerful legacy.
“Our elders used to regard only Chaudhary Sahib and he used to regard them. He is the only one who has helped Jats live better lives. It’s like we had a disagreement with the Chaudhary (leader) of our family and that’s not a good thing. We are regretting our decision. Apne Chaudhary ka saath chhod ke achcha nahi kiya humne (We made a mistake by abandoning our leader),” says Karan Singh, a village elder.
For some of the younger Jats, farming is not the way forward. They want to break away from their traditional roles but say they have little chance of doing so.
“It’s been 2-3 years, I haven’t found a job. We are proud people. We don’t listen to anyone but ourselves. I want a job. I don’t want to be a farmer like my father, I want a job,” says Nitin Balyan, 23.
Sudhir Kumar, a high school kabaddi coach, says he worries for the future of his students. The 2016 agitation for Jat quotas, he claims, could have eased their path. “I coach kids so that they stay out of trouble. If they play at the national level, they’ll find it easier to get a job. I am worried for our kids because they don’t have reservation. We had reservation, they’ve taken it away. Our Jat brothers in Haryana protested for a better future for their kids. They asked for reservation but they were lathi-charged and shot at. The government shouldn’t have done that. Everyone fights for their rights. Can a Jat not ask for his rights?”
Ajit Singh is fighting an election his father lost in 1971. He believes religious polarisation was the sole reason behind BJP’s sweep of Uttar Pradesh in 2014. The RLD chief says, “2014 election was different. What was the difference? Communal riots. I have spent the last year going to at least 10 districts in western UP, spending 10 days there discussing nothing but how to bring bhaichara (brotherhood) back. This Kairana election cemented that bhaichara.”
The RLD is banking on Jat solidarity, but everywhere the community seems divided. Sisauli village, the headquarters of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) and the home of its late founder Mahendra Singh Tikait, has been dubbed the ‘farmers’ capital’ of western UP. While the BKU is an apolitical outfit, their cadre have picked the deep divisions in Jat society.
“In Muzaffarnagar, both candidates are Jat. So people are divided. The young guys are more inclined towards BJP. The older folks are inclined towards RLD. We have told BKU workers not to campaign openly for any party,” says BKU chief Naresh Singh.
But how do these deep divisions bode for the political future of the Jats? “We are fighting amongst ourselves, in our own community. Charan Singh won us 95 seats, but look at us now. We don’t even have one seat. The young ones have abandoned their party for BJP. We remind them of our past, of our party, our community. But they are educated and smarter than we are. They are carving their own path. Father and son are divided. I’m a Lok Dal supporter, but my wife and son are BJP supporters. I have never seen a situation like this. If Jats are united, they can win 95 seats for RLD. If they are divided, we will be zero. I don’t know what Modi has done, people are crazy about him,” says Anangpal Singh, an RLD sympathizer.
Kutbi-Kutba tell the story of Jats post 2014. With their unity dissipating, they now confront the larger question of whether they will lose their political clout. This election, they say, is one between Jat Asmita and Hindutva pride.
Anangpal says the fabled unity of the Jats may be a thing of the past. “Jat ekta (unity) has lost its meaning, it has been subsumed in the Hindutva identity. Because of Modi, we have forgotten our own community. We have to fight for the respect of our party. We want Modi in the Centre, but we also want Ajit Singh to have his presence.”
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