Just weeks ahead of the likely announcement of state elections in Haryana, Congress is faced with the dilemma on how to regroup the support of Jat community in its favour. With this, recently appointed party chief Sonia Gandhi is also dealing with the question of whether or not the party should project a pro-Jat face and narrative in the election.
The dilemma in party’s top leadership comes in the backdrop of two key reasons. One that it is the first assembly election since the violent Jat reservation agitation of 2016 and second that a rebellion has been raised by former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda – Congress’ tallest Jat leader in the state.
Jats, which comprise of over one fourth of the state’s population, have historically been a key support base of the Congress party but have waned away in the past few years ever. They are a socially and politically crucial group which has been demanding an OBC (other backward classes) reservation in the state for benefits in government jobs and educational institutions.
While an organization reshuffle in the state seems imminent, senior party leaders say Gandhi will be tasked with balancing the caste equations particularly with respect to Jat representation. The state unit of the party is currently headed by Ashok Tanwar, young Dalit leader, who was appointed in the walk up the previous assembly elections in 2014 where Hooda was voted out of power.
“It is a fact that we have lost the steam out of our Jat outreach. Hooda going out of power was a key indicator of Jat support spreading thin but the party did not do much to keep the narrative in its favour over the next few years. Such a massive Jat reservation agitation happened, we let it go politically and did nothing to assuage feelings," a senior party leader from the state said requesting anonymity.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 pitched a non-Jat face, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, which has forced the Congress to further relook at its political strategies in the state. All eyes are now on what organizational changes that Gandhi effects in the state. A section of the state leadership feels Gandhi could go for appointing a few working presidents to balance the caste equations.
“Irrespective of whether a Jat leader is chosen for the state chief’s post or not, the party will focus on the community in the election campaign. There are also some indications that three to four working presidents could be appointed to balance the caste arithmetic in the state," another party leader from the state added.