Parties Scramble For Jat Votes
The Jats are basically agriculturists, but now they have excelled in various walks of life. They have contributed to the freedom struggle and the medieval history suggests that during the time when the Rajputs and Mughals were in alliance, it was they who resisted against their sway. Needless to say, Jats are considered a martial race.
In Rajasthan, the entire peasant movement was led by them. In post-independence era, they along with Bishnois are politically considered one unit. Adult franchise has created enormous social and political awakening among the Jats. Consolidation of economic gains and participation in the electoral process are two visible outcomes of the post-independence situation.
The Jats have been serving the armed forces in large numbers. Large number of Kargil martyrs were Jats. Their spirit of freedom and equality did not find favour with Brahmanical scheme of things. But if they backed the BJP in the past, it was only because of their disillusionment with the Congress.
In recent times, the Jats have putting special emphasis on education and the literacy rate among them are very high now. In Sikar and Jhunjhunu districts, one can see large numbers of their children going to convent school. The merit list of various services in the state government demonstrates that large numbers of them are emerging as toppers.
In Rajasthan, the combined strength of the Jats and Bishnois have been a force to reckon with as there are as many as 40 MLAs and eight Lok Sabha members from their community.
Jats have always regretted that despite the fact that they have great influence in the politics of the state, no Jat has ever become the Chief Minister. The Jats became particularly bitter when in 2003 Ashok Gehlot was preferred over Paras Ram Maderna and was made the Chief Minister of the state.
The Jats opposed Gehlot as he was allegedly considered against giving the Jats the status of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). However, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA government had granted them the OBC status.
In Rajasthan, the Congress lost power in 2003 mainly because of the anti-Gehlot feeling and the Jats tilted towards the BJP considering that Vasundhara Raje as a “Jat Bahu”. However, when Raje came to power, she did not give much importance to the Jats as a result sizeable number of them came back to the Congress fold.
The Congress is facing a piquant situation in Rajasthan following the arrests of a minister in Gelot government—Mahipal Maderna and a powerful MLA Malkhan Singh Bishnoi. Both of them are in jail now as principal conspirators in the killing of Bhanwari Devi, an auxiliary nurse who was known for having close relationship with the two leaders.
These two leaders were arrested by the CBI and are now facing trial for the murder of Bhanwari Devi. But their arrests have annoyed both the Jats and the Bishnois, who feel that Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot conspired to get them arrested. But the revelation of a CD showing Maderna in intimate position with Bhanwari Devi and several evidences proving that Bishnoi had, too, an intimate relationship with Bhanwari Devi, did not convince the communities. The Congress came to power in 2008 largely because of the Jats supporting the party.
But interestingly, the Jats are a divided house and there are several claimants within the community for the post of chief ministership. Former Union minister late Nathu Ram Mirdha was the tallest Jat leader. Another former Union minister Sis Ram Ola, who belongs to the Shekhawati region, is also an influential Jat leader. Clearly, the post of chief ministership is like one post and thousand candidates.
Cashing on the disillusionment of the Jat community, the BJP tried to gain their support through a social event in which the former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and ex-Congress MP Hari Singh declared their support for former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. This move also saw the community divided on the issue. There were no notable Jat leaders present during this function and the function could not create any ripples in the state’s Jat politics.
The event was organised as a part of the diamond jubilee of the Kisan Hostel in which a known critic of Gehlot and former minister Dr Hari Singh Choudhry joined the BJP.
But the ruling Congress believes that both Natwar Singh and Dr Hari Singh are spent force and would hardly affect its prospects in the upcoming elections.
The BJP, nonetheless, maintains that the two leaders coming to its fold has sent a message to the Jat community, which is looking for options after being antagonised with the ruling party over the arrests in the Bhanwari Devi murder episode.
The event organised as a farmers’ rally by Dr Hari Singh under the guise of an education trust’s annual celebrations, honoured former Chief Minister Raje. At the same function, Natwar Singh diplomatically declined to join any political party, he emphasised on having already given his son Jagat Singh in the services of BJP.
“The two leaders were never a grassroot-level worker of the party. They have no political following and are not even recognised by the Jat community who would never encourage anti-Congress elements,” said PCC president Dr Chandrabhan
Chandrabhan narrated how Hari Singh lost the last assembly election to a non-Jat candidate from Jaipur district’s Phulera constituency, which is considered to be dominated by the Jats. “He calls himself a Jat leader, but was defeated by a person from the Kumawat (potter) community. This shows that even the Jats did not vote for him,” he reasoned.
But the BJP general secretary Satish Poonia, himself a Jat, said that the Jats are coming to the BJP fold and the situation of 2003 is being revived which would help the party.
“The joining of the BJP by Dr Hari Singh is only a beginning and more and more people would join the BJP. This would pave the way for the BJP becoming a mass-based party rather than just a cadre party,” said Poonia.
Poonia’s observation is that slowly the Jats are shifting towards the BJP which would weaken the Congress.
“Even in the Gehlot’s own Western Rajasthan, the farmers’ community, which is dominated by the Jats and has significant presence in Western Rajasthan, is angry with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot over the Bhanwari Devi episode and the inadequate power supply for agriculture. They will surely go with us,” Poonia claimed.
Even the Congressmen clandestinely admit that the real worries for the party are the Bhanwari Devi episode and the Gopalgarh police firing incident. “If we take care of our traditional supporters (read Jats and Muslims) in these two regions, the inconsequential shifts like that of the two leaders will not affect our prospects,” a senior PCC member said.
But Ashok Saharan, son of late Daulat Ram Saharan, a former Union minister, who was a respected Jat leader, feels that the Jats are yet to decide as to whom to support.
“The Jats comprise of 16.7 per cent and the Bishnois are 1.6 percent of total population of the state. Together, the two communities have a large say in 87 seats out of the 200 Vidhan Sabha seats. Thus they have a very strong political presence. The Jats even matter in the reserved seats and their votes eventually decide the winner. My wife is the president of the Churu district body of the BJP, but we still feel that in the dominated areas of Shekhawati, Bikaner division, Western Rajasthan and part of Mewar region, the Jats are yet to make up their mind,” said Saharan.
By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur