Chandigarh: In recent years, khaps - community courts - in Haryana have made news mostly for the wrong reasons including diktats on weddings and opposing jeans for girls. In election time, the same khaps are being wooed by political parties as they command wide influence.
For the khaps themselves, it is a difficult proposition: should they align with political parties or leaders or remain apolitical.
At a recent meeting of khaps in Kaithal town, 130 km from here, the issue of extending support to political parties and candidates was discussed. Finally, the khaps decided not to interfere with the political process and remain apolitical.
"The khaps decided they should remain apolitical. The role of khaps is more on social issues and they do not want to get involved in active politics," khap leader Dharampal Dhariwal said.
The importance of the khaps, especially in the politically dominant Jat community, is such that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at a rally in Jind Saturday, had to seek their blessings for the BJP for the Oct 15 Assembly elections.
"The khaps are an important part of Haryana's social structure. Even though they do not enjoy any legal sanctity, they have considerable influence over their respective communities," Rajpal Dahiya, a khap member and history teacher, told IANS.
"In recent years, Khaps have drawn flak for wrong reasons. But the khaps, which have been around for hundreds of years, do a lot of good social work also," Dahiya added.
In the run up to the elections, khaps and their leaders have been wooed by almost all political parties. The parties want the khaps to support them.
A handful of khap leaders are also in the fray in the elections.
They include Shamsher Singh Kharkara, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Meham. He heads the Aithgama khap. He had contested the Lok Sabha polls on the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) ticket.
The INLD candidate in Beri, Santosh Ahlawat Dahiya, is the first president of the women wing of the Sarv khap Sarv mahapanchayat.
Baljit Singh, head of the Gathwala khap (near Gohana-Sonipat), is the BJP candidate from Baroda.
To remain socially relevant in modern times, khap leaders now acknowledge that they also have to change, especially to keep the youth associated with them.
"The khaps have to inspire youth and stay connected with the latest developments. Youth will lose interest if the khaps become too dictatorial," khap leader Mange Ram said.
However, in certain areas, the khaps have shown their inclination towards parties like the Congress and the INLD.
"It is not wrong for the khaps to become part of the democratic process," argued khap leader Raghuveer Singh. "If khaps can play a role behind the scenes to help partiers or candidates, they should also come out openly to make their political affiliations known.
"In the long run, this could be beneficial for the community instead of just a few leaders," he said.