The event assumes even more significance as PM Modi is visiting Jat land much earlier than scheduled. He was earlier supposed to attend a BJP rally in Karnal on November 1 to mark the completion of four years of Manohar Lal Khattar government in the state.
However, the BJP was forced to advance his visit to October 9, owing to the pressure built by opposition party Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), which had been demanding immediate unveiling of the statue as it has been ready for about 9 months now.
Chief Minister Khattar, however, said the delay in unveiling of the statue was not an issue. “But since elections to three big states are due in November, PM Modi couldn’t have spared time later. So, he will be coming on October 9. We will be happy if he still makes it on November 1. However, our national president Amit Shah has assured that he will be present then,” he said.
The BJP and INLD have locked horns over the unveiling of Sir Chhotu Ram’s statue in his paternal village as they try to cash-in on the political legacy of the peasant and Jat leader.
And for the BJP, it would be even more crucial as support from Jats, who comprise one-fourth of the population, has eroded over the last four years.
The erosion can be traced to the appointment of Khattar, the first non-Jat chief minister of the state, the inept handling of the Jat agitation by the state government and anti-Jat statements made by some party leaders, thereby worsening the situation.
But not just the BJP, all major political parties have tried their best to appropriate Sir Chhotu Ram’s legacy and ever since Haryana was carved out of erstwhile Punjab on November 1, 1966, not a single election has passed in which his name hasn’t been mentioned.
Union steel minister Chaudhary Birender Singh, the maternal grandson of Sir Chhotu Ram and has been invoking him every year on the occasion of Vasant Panchmi.
The former Congress veteran, who had switched to BJP during the last Lok Sabha polls, was the first to get constructed a memorial in his name in 2004.
Singh’s bête noire and INLD supremo Om Prakash Chautala had in 2005 organsied a huge rally in Garhi Sampla and had also dedicated a one-room museum which housed books, clothes and other items used by the peasant leader.
The real battle over his legacy kicked off in 2016 when Singh, calming to be his political heir, announced that a tall statue of his would be installed in Garhi Sampla and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will himself come to unveil the statue.
Subsequently, a 64-feet-tall iron statue was erected but the inauguration has been hanging fire for the past nine months. Meanwhile, the earlier, smaller statue, which was erected by OP Chautala was shifted to a government college in Sampla, drawing the ire of the INLD.
While it remains Singh’s dream project, the BJP has tried to woo the Jat vote bank from day one. The BJP h as already rechristened Garhi Sampla village as Sir Chhotu Ram Nagar.
State finance minister Capt. Abhimanyu, when questioned over the issue denied having any political motive behind the unveiling of the statue, without forgetting to mention what his party had done in the name of Sir Chhotu Ram.
“Deenbandhu Chaudhary Sir Chhotu Ram was never associated with a particular caste. He was a messiah of the farmers, the poor. He was above politics, caste and religion. Similarly, the BJP doesn’t believe in the politics of caste. PM Modi’s message is clear. BJP is a party dedicated to the farmers,” he said.
“Even Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had attended a state-level Deenbandhu Prerna rally of the BJP back in 2005. We started the Deenbandhu Gram Uday Yojna in the first year of our government and had allocated Rs 1200 crore then,” he added.
The Jat leader from Rohtak also lambasted the opposition parties for ‘deriding’ Sir Chhotu Ram. “INLD has always seen every issue through a prism of caste and it reflects its narrow-mindedness. History speaks for itself. Sir Chhotu Ram was ill-treated by the Congress and he had to leave the party and form his own ‘Unionist (Zamindara)’ outfit. The forefathers of the INLD also had maltreated the peasant leader. In such a scenario I don’t expect much from the INLD and the Congress,” he said.
The INLD, however, maintained that the BJP was trying to poach its traditional vote bank. Party leader RS Chaudhary said the party had been demanding for over a year that the statue be inaugurated.
“Our youth leaders took up the matter and went among the masses. It was only then that they assured to unveil the statue on November 1. The BJP and the Congress are in a habit of shedding crocodile tears. If BJP is claiming to be a party of the farmers, why the Swaminathan report hasn’t been implemented. It is all political gimmick as the elections are approaching,” he said.
Even as the BJP and the INLD slug it out, the Congress has adopted the policy of wait and watch. It is treading the path carefully as its share of the Jat vote bank remains consolidated. Former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, himself a tall Jat leader and seemingly unfazed, said, “Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of this country and he can go anywhere he wants. Though it is my assembly constituency, but still if the PM is visiting, he should be announcing at least something for the people here”.
In the 2014 assembly elections, the Jat voters, had remained loyal to their traditional parties – INLD and the Congress. Hooda had won 10 of the 14 seats in the Deswali Jat belt (Jhajjar, Rohtak, Sonepat, Bahadurgarh, Badli) while the INLD had won all the five seats in Sirsa.
The BJP had come to power for the first time in the state in 2014 by winning majority of the seats falling on the GT Road belt. Out of the 25-odd seats in this region, the BJP had won 22 taking its tally to 47. Five districts- Ambala, Karnal, Kurukshetra, Yamunanagar and Panchkula districts — fall on the GT Road belt.