Rohtak is a small district 50 miles (80 km) west of the Indian capital of New Delhi. The city is also known as the Jat heartland for its dominant Jat population. The second biggest community in the district is [Hindu] Punjabis who migrated to Haryana after the Islamic state of Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947. The Punjabis are primarily businessmen and live in the urban areas. They, notably, run the largest wholesale cloth market of Asia known as Shori market. The Jats primarily constitute the agrarian society and dominate the public institutions. The traumatic memories of 1947 have kept Punjabis suspicious of Indian National Congress (“Congress”) and hence, their love for nationalist BJP is well known. The Congress is the Grand Old Party of India and hence, is deeply entrenched in the Jat social institutional bodies, namely, the Khap Panchayats and educational institutions. The Jats’ love for the nation and hence, joining the Indian army is well-known. The nationalist spirit is implicit in the culture of the
city district. So much so that while Congress leaders outside Haryana support anti-India rallies while the Congress leaders in Haryana fight court battles for the right to display Indian flags.
The permanent undercurrent
There has always been a tense relationship between the Jat and the Punjabi communities. From labeling Punjabis as outsiders, Jhangis, and at worst, Pakistanis, a “small” conservative section of Jat community has always found the idea of maintaining cordial relations with Punjabi community unpalatable. To the silent majority [of Jats], living with Punjabis is inconsequential – they have more important things to worry about in life. They have admiration for the Punjabi community in terms of the affluence they have built up after losing everything in 1947. While the undercurrent does lead to animosity from time to time but overall, the effect of it has been negligible. As someone who was born and grew up as a Punjabi in Rohtak, I had a lot of Jat friends. Only a few of them ever held any animosity against Punjabis. The vice-versa is true as well. The undercurrent, I believed and felt, was a dying one.
The elections of 2014
Compared to most states in the country, Haryana is a sleepy state as far as politics go. Political news from the neighboring states would dominate the news section. The ban on student unions could be a major cause of this. 2015 elections were a landmark because this was the first time the BJP came to power on its own. The idea of having a Punjabi Chief Minister whose parents came here empty-handed in 1947 did not bode well with the small albeit influential conservative section of the Jat community. No surprises that the Jat reservation leader Hawa Singh Sangwan referred to him as a Pakistani.
Riots of 2016
While Congress did lose the elections, its deep penetration within Jats is well-known. Using that penetration to create a ruckus in a BJP-led government is a deliberate one. An inexperienced Chief Minister, who is a first-time MLA and the 2017 UP elections where the BJP does not want to lose the Jat votes for has led to a sacrifice of Punjabi community of Rohtak in the process. At the risk of repeating myself, Rohtak is not Srinagar or Nagaland where anti-nationalists run amok – both the dominant communities are deeply nationalist. But now the city is under curfew, probably for the first time since my birth in 1987. The city is being ruled by rioters with non-Jat, primarily, Punjabi and other non-Jat owned businesses being deliberately targeted. The burning of Captain Abhimanyu’s house, Finance minister of Haryana, who is a Jat himself, is a symbolic one, the community has effectively disowned its most prominent leader in the ruling BJP government.
The long-term effects
The dividing line between Jats and Punjabis were supposed to diminish over time. The communities have too much in common, from the same religion to similar food habits. These riots would leave deep scars and suspicion in the Punjabi community which after being questioned for its identity and threatened with riots was once forced to leave their paternal land in 1947. Two generations later, in the hindsight of Jat reservation, the uncomfortable question targeting their identity is being asked again.