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The Message Has Gone Down That Modi Doesn't Have Much Respect

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29 April 2015

The Message Has Gone Down That Modi Doesn't Have Much Respect

JayantjiThe Message Has Gone Down That Modi Doesn't Have Much Respect

Jayant Chaudhary, general secretary, Rashtriya Lok Dal on the land acquisition ordinance and why the Jat community sees it as poison.


The Narendra Modi government wants the land acquisition ordinance to become law. The politically sensitive Jat community sees this ordinance as poison. In the eye of this storm is Jayant Chaudhary, general secretary, Rashtriya Lok Dal and ex-MP. He speaks to Pragya Singh about how Modi is now seen, in one of India's most politically significant states, as a strongman who "doesn't have much respect".

What made Jats support the BJP in 2014 and is the situation changing now?

Jat sentiments have changed but the government is not taking them into account — the BJP will not win another election unless they do. They should consider a loan waiver for farmers, seeing their high indebtedness. Farmers now have Kisan Credit Cards and take regular loans as well as unorganized loans. So, in every village every farmer has some loan to repay. Crop damage on top of it has left them with no cash flow. Modi had promised sugarcane payments within ten days. He even gave Gujarat's example. Farmers who had felt the BJP would really do something are disappointed. There was a time when you walked around in the villages and heard people say that BJP will win 200 seats, now you never hear this. Late rains had already pushed productivity down 12 per cent and the government has been slow to pick up wheat stocks. Jats, being typically landlords, suffer directly, but the crisis is across castes.

Reservation has been denied by the Supreme Court to the Jats, but they are angry with the BJP and PM Modi in particular. How fair is that?

Yes, the Supreme Court has given a ruling, but the government is well within its rights to extend reservation to Jats. The Backward Commission rules say that the government 'may' take its views on extending the OBC category to new sub-castes, but in no way is it binding for the government to do so. Natural justice demands that Jats get reservation, as those who are equal to Jats in status do. There's a larger question — if a Jat deserves reservation in a state, how can he be disentitled generally, in the central list? I don't think that the judgment's view is appropriate. It says that caste alone is not a factor, but shouldn't this argument apply to all castes? Why just Jats? Both grounds are therefore erroneous.

Will the anger over reservation pass in a while?

There is a crisis among Jats since the ruling. Basically, the whole reservation system will be challenged in courts. Nobody will want such a precedent; they will never allow it to pass. The rejection has come as a huge blow and they are not going to move back. I vividly see it; a lot of pain, a trust deficit, they feel it is the government that does not want reservation for Jats.

How does the changing political scenario affect your prospects?

The BJP, during its election last year, had hurt us politically. At the time, there were also some inflammatory messages going around, those videos of Pakistan [circulated as if Indian Jats were being killed by Muslims] blew up. Jats had then wanted a big presence in government [at the center]...

Why was your party so quiet at that time, while the communal rhetoric continued? It was as if nobody was on the other side of the communal divide.

We were speaking out, we were on the other side — nobody wanted to hear us then. If we had gone to the thousands of angry, agitated people and told them they were wrong, they would have turned against us [violently]. They would have thrown me off the stage! Otherwise, the tradition in the area is Arya Samaj, with very few religious rites and symbolism and so on. I think the Jats are still quite like that; their view of religion is not based on ritualism even today. What had happened then was a temporary emotional decision born of anger and unreasonable expectations. There is an anecdote, something we heard people say a year ago: 'Das din me saaf ho jayenge [Muslims]. Now they are saying: 'Yeh kya ho gaya…yeh theek nahin hai..’'

What expectations do you have of the future elections in UP?

For us it is more important to show that in we can be a part of a ruling combination. Instinctively Jats are coming back [to us]. Earlier, the crowds would come but their heart was somewhere else. Now, they feel they have been tricked; that the government is anti-farmer. Once such an impression is created, it becomes impossible to change. The suit [Modi wore during US President Obama's visit], the fact that he [Modi] holds very little dialogue, the manner in which he runs his party — like a company — all this is changing perceptions. People notice all this. The message has gone right down to the villages that Modi is a man who 'strong-arms', that he doesn't have much respect.

Have the general farm crisis, unseasonal rains this year and the land acquisition ordinance become inter-connected in people's minds?

In Mathura and Agra crops were severely damaged by hail. Sugarcane was less affected but wheat was badly damaged. Two people died because of the massive size of the falling hail in my area. The damage for wheat is at 90 per cent and would require around Rs 130 crore in just Mathura region. But the state government's entire declared compensation is Rs 330 crore. In this scenario comes the land [ordinance]. People can see sign boards along the land notified for acquisition, for instance, along the Yamuna Expressway. These farmers know what's coming; they are waiting for the axe to fall.

When you talk to people about the land acquisition Ordinance, what aspect connects most?

They understand consent — removal of the consent clause. They know that once you open this door you can't close it. They get that something they have will be taken away. The fact is, why change the 2013 Act at all? It had enough room for land to be acquired for public purpose. The government didn't need to amend it. I believe PPP [public-private partnership projects] prompted these changes.

Why should PPP be a problem?

PPP is un-definable, it can accommodate any project at all. The government argues that land will be acquired on lease, but this is meaningless because that is how these lands are always taken. This means nothing to the farmer. In Bhatta Parsaul [villages near Nodia where farmers vehemently opposed land acquisition in 2009], that was the big issue. Then the BJP leaders keep saying that they will clear the land Ordinance as an amendment, obviously it does not go down well at all.

What does the unrest mean for parties such as yours? Caste-based politics was declared all but dead after the 2014 verdict?

We are not a 'Jat' party. We represent peasants, farmers and a broader social group that includes Jats. We have just one Jat MLA and we have a Muslim MLA [Chaudhary] Mushtaq sahab. We believe in wider farmers' issues and don't talk about Jat issues.

Jayant Chaudhary, Ex- Member of Parliament Lok Sabha and National General Secretary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal

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