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Rajasthan Elections: Caste Plays An Important Factor

Updated: November 2, 2013 11:02 am

In the caste-ridden society in Rajasthan, the upper castes, which enjoyed an edge in the post-independent India’s electoral battles, are now finding it tough to make a space for themselves. In the first ever election for the Vidhan Sabha in 1952, in a state which was ruled by princes and big landlords, a large number of royals or their nominees entered the Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha as people’s representatives. But in subsequent years, the royals tried to establish their supremacy when Maharani Gayatri Devi founded the Swatantra Party and this party, which was basically a party of the Rajputs, thrived by mustering the support of the masses. The Congress, which gave the country freedom, to its dismay found that the people were still fascinated by the former rulers. The former rulers fought as Swatantra Party or the erstwhile Jan Sangh candidates or as Independents and were successful in winning the general seats both in the Vidhan Sabha and the Lok Sabha elections. The era when Gayatri Devi founded Swatantra Party saw the Congress fighting against all odds created by the Swatantra Party and the Jan Sangh. But the reign of the Swatantra Party was short-lived and after two general elections the party started losing its grip on the electorate who with time started forgetting the rulers and the big landlords.

However, it was Jan Sangh which emerged as a force to reckon with under the leadership of a Rajput leader of the stature of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Jan Sangh as an outfit was confined to the semi-urban and the urban areas only and it was known as a party of the Rajputs, Banias (including Jains) and Bramhins. The credit of building Jan Sangh in the state goes to Shekhawat who lured a large number of Rajputs to the party’s fold, who for their own survival left Swatantra Party to join Jan Sangh.

Shekhawat after the formation of the Bharatiya Janata Party tried to give it a broader outlook by luring the other castes including the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes to make it an all-caste party. However, the Muslims remained loyal to the Congress except for a single instance where a Muslim won the Vidhan Sabha election from the holy town of Pushkar in Ajmer district. Ramzan Khan for the first time won a predominantly Hindu-dominated seat as a BJP candidate and was made a minister. Now the BJP has two Muslims as MLAs.

The Rajputs gave immense support to the BJP largely because of Shekhawat and they were given party nominations. In the Vidhan Sabha elections of 1998, 2003 and 2008, while the BJP fielded a large number of Rajputs as candidates, the Jats, who were loyal to the Congress and played a big role during the Independence movement, dominated the politics as they were larger in number. The Jats, who are 18 per cent of the population, helped the Congress maintain an edge. In 1998, 2003 and 2008 elections, the BJP fielded a total of 81 Rajputs and 39 of them won. As against BJP’s 81, the Congress fielded 54 Rajputs and only 26 of them could win.

But the open-minded policy of both Shekhawat and the former BJP president Ramdas Agarwal succeeded when the party started luring the Jats to its fold. Such Jats who wanted to make political space for themselves fought against the established Jat leaders of Congress and did reasonably well. Prior to 1998, when Shekhawat led a coalition government of the BJP and the Janta Dal, a number of the Janata Dal winners were Jats who later joined the BJP. The Congress in the past three Vidhan Sabha elections gave 107 tickets to the Jats and 55 of them won, whereas BJP fielded 80 Jat candidates and 24 of them won.

When Shekhawat became the country’s vice president there was a void in the BJP and the party badly lacked a formidable leader. The Congress was ruling the state with Ashok Gehlot as the Chief Minister and during his reign he annoyed the Jat community by showing his reluctance to give the Jats the status of the Other Backward Class (OBC). Gehlot was not in favour of the Jats getting the OBC status as he thought the Jats were reasonably well placed and their inclusion as OBC would put other OBC castes in disadvantage. Education in the Jat community was growing and they became economically stronger. The Jats joined hands together to launch tirade against Gehlot under the aegis of Jat Mahasabha.

Gehlot thought that the Jats would harm the society’s fabrics if they were included as OBCs. This was the time when there was a BJP-led NDA government at the Centre with Atal Behari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister. At a rally in Jaipur, he made an announcement granting the Jat community the OBC status. This made the Jat community stronger as they would get the benefits of reservation in both jobs and also in admission in educational institutes. Gehlot after this decision lost face and was identified by the Jat community as “anti-Jat”. The Jats started distancing themselves from the Congress and found the BJP as a party where they have a future.

The Jats in 1998, expected veteran Paras Ram Maderna to be the first Jat Chief Minister, but the non-Jat MLAs supported the candidature of Ashok Gehlot as a result of which Maderna missed the bus. This also annoyed the Jat community who thought that they were denied an opportunity. Prior to the 2003 Assembly elections, the BJP made Vasundhara Raje the president of the state unit. She was representing the Jhalawar constituency and had won from there thrice and was a Union Minister for State. She launched the Parivartan Yatra. As she is married into the Jat royal family of Dholpur, she started identifying herself as Jat ki bahu. And this gimmick clicked with the Jat community. As her son Dushyant Singh, who is now MP from Jhalawar and is married to a Gujjar from Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, she took the advantage to call herself Gujjar bahu ki saas. She did the icing on the cake when she also started identifying herself with the Rajputs by calling herself Chhatriya ki beti as she belonged to the ruling family of Gwalior.

The gimmick collectively saw the Congress losing badly in 2003 to the BJP. Vasundhara proved that she is the new face of the BJP and people started weighing her higher than Shekhawat. Shekhawat with all his acumen could never give the BJP majority and whenever he became the Chief Minister, he was leading a government that was formed by the support of the Independents. The Jats overwhelmingly supported the BJP and for the first time the Congress lost its loyal community. The Congress that had come to power winning 156 seats could get only 56 seats.

But Vasundhara in the last year of her reign was dubbed a corrupt and the Congress led a tirade against her government, accusing her of involved in a scam that cost the state Rs 22,000 crore. The charges of corruption and the rebels within BJP particularly the role played by a BJP rebel Dr Kirori Lal Meena cost the BJP dearly and it lost 25 seats it had won earlier. The BJP could not get the required numbers and the Congress formed the government with Gehlot as the Chief Minister.

An analysis of the last three elections in the state shows that the upper castes have lost their grip on the masses and the OBCs have fast emerged as heavyweights. The Bramhins who used to be the backbone of both the Congress and the BJP in the past three elections did not fare well. In the last three elections, the BJP fielded 64 Bramhins , but only 17 could win. The Congress fielded 67 Bramhins and only 15 could win. However, the Banias that included the Jains, despite being lesser in numbers, did better than the Bramhins. The BJP fielded 54 Banias and 28 of them won, while the Congress score was 21 out of 44.

Among the OBCs, the BJP fielded Gujjars and out of 26, only 10 could win, while the Congress number was 12 out of 29. Sikhs, Punjabis and Sindhis, who are considered migrant class, and who came as refugees after the partition in 1947, backed the BJP. The BJP fielded 20 persons from these communities and nine of them won while the Congress score was six out of 14. The Mali community, to which Gehlot belongs, wasvgiven seven tickets by the Congress in the last three elections and had four winners. The BJP’s record was poor as out of the 17 only three could win. other communities report cards show that among Muslims BJP won four out of 10, while Congress won 25 out of 50. Among Seervi, Patel and Kaalvi, BJP won seven out of 10 and Congress four out of eight. Among Kumawat, BJP won six out of nine, while Congress won one out of three.

By PB Chandra from Jaipur

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