Saturday, August 13th, 2022 21:04:00

Rajasthan Elections IMPACT OF GUJJAR AGITATION

Updated: November 16, 2013 1:00 pm

When Congress led by Ashok Gehlot formed the government in 2008 the party was in minority. The Congress could win only 98 out of the 200 seats and the BJP won 79. Gehot was able to form the government when a number of Congress-minded Independents came to the rescue of the Congress and extended their valuable support. The BJP short in number did not even try to form the government knowing it well that the BSP. MLAs would never join them. But Gehlot in a turnaround, gained majority when six BSP MLAs crossed over and landed support to the Congress-led government.

In fact, even after the anti-incumbency factor and the grave charges of corruption that Vasundhara Raje faced, the BJP did not perform that badly. But the party faltered in gauging the repercussion of denying the tickets to the sitting MLAs. The sitting MLAs who were denied tickets were dropped as they could not perform to the expected standard during their five-year tenure . The denial of tickets was also due to the delimitation factor, as a large number of the sitting MLAs were affected by the delimitation and lost the areas from where they had won to other constituencies. The delimitation factor was also the reason for denying them the party’s nomination.

Lack of experience and inadequate study about new constituencies and caste equations by Vasundhra and poor advice and counselling of her confidante cost the party dearly and the party lost as many as 54 seats. About 40 sitting MLAs were denied tickets and once denied the ticket, they either fought as rebels or showed no interest in electioneering and rather worked in a negative role to see that the new incumbent lose.

A study of the BJP’s losses in the last election on divisional and region basis reveals that the Congress did a better job in understanding the new constituencies and also caste equations. Although even the Congress faltered on many counts, it committed less mistakes than the BJP.

The alleged maltreatment of the Meena community leader Dr Kirori Lal Meena, who along with his wife Golma Devi contested as an Independent, sent a very strong message to the Meena community. During the BJP rule, the government faced one of the worst bloodbath when 60 Gujjars lost their lives in violence and in police firing. Gujjars demanded the status of Scheduled Tribes like that of the Meena. Three separate agitations resulted in a large number of deaths, hundreds of injured and heavy damages to the property.

Gujjars had begun demanding ST status as early as 2006. Their demand to state government. was to include them in the ST category. Their demand came in sharp criticism from the Meena community, the biggest beneficiary in Rajasthan among the ST category. It led to a clash between two communities apart from clashes between the protesters and the police.

Justice Chopra committee rejected Gujjars’ demand in the month of December 2007. Following this, animosity between Gujjars and the BJP-led state government increased. It led to second agitation of Gujjars in the summer of 2008. This time, the stir had continued for almost a month. The agitation was more violent and wide spread this time as Indian army was called in to handle the situation. Unlike last time, clashes between Gujjars and the Meena community didn’t take place this time. The stir ended after Vasundhara Raje agreed to give five per cent reservation to the Gujjar community under a special category.

Protests this time resulted in death of 37 persons, most of who died in confrontations. Apart from these casualties, many other people were injured and public property worth crores was destroyed. Gujjars finally let go of demand of inclusion in the ST category and instead asked for providing five per cent reservation to Gadia Luhars, Rebaris and Banjaras along with Gujjars in the special category.

The quota given to Gujjars did damage the Meena community very much and in 25 reserved seats it created loss for the STs, particularly in the areas of east and northern Rajasthan, the electorate voted en bloc against the BJP. The party could not find a solution to keep both the Meenas and the Gujjars happy, as a result of which both the communities voted against the BJP.

Vasundhara had little options as she could not have pleased the Gujjars at the cost of the Meenas who were in larger numbers and already enjoyed reservation and there were 25 ST seats in the Vidhan Sabha. Thus, having lost the support of both the Meenas and the Gujjars, she did not stop committing mistakes. In the districts of Ganganagar and Hanumangarh, she chose wrong persons in four constituencies, which were lost to the Opposition. In the caste-sensitive Shekhawati region also, she fumbled in backing the wrong candidates and as many as 10 BJP seats were lost. These seats were won by either Congress or by the BSP or the CPM. Thus, the BJP got wiped out in the Shekhawati region. The denial of tickets to the sitting BJP MLAs and the wrong selection of candidates in the constituencies, which were reserved for the STs, and also such seats where the Meenas were in adequate numbers, dealt a body blow to the BJP, and at a stretch, it lost 15 seats in Dausa, Sawaimadhopur and Jaipur districts. In the Marwar Mewar regions, the BJP suffered heavily and even in her own Hadauti region the BJP lost five seats to the Congress. This was a heavy price that the BJP had to pay for miscalculations and lack of understanding. Both the BJP and Congress governments failed to find a permanent

solution to the problem and Rajasthan state was yet again thrown into a cauldron of unrest.

The ground for the third agitation, which is going on presently, was prepared last year when in the month of October, the High Court stayed the provisione of the 5 per cent reservation to Gujjars. The reason was pretty straightforward. The implementation of this reservation policy would have resulted into reservation going past 50 per cent in state, which is unconstitutional as the reservation should not exceed beyond 50 per cent in normal circumstances. In few states like Maharashtra, reservation beyond 50 per cent has been allowed in special circumstances. By this time, the government. too had changed in the state and Congress Ashok Gehlot had become the new Chief Minister.

When the Congress government came into power in December 2008, Gujjars decided not to opt for violent ways in pressing their demand for reservation. The Gehlot government granted one per cent quota to Gujjars and asked the community for the decision on the rest four per cent. It was a lollipop that the Gehlot government gave to Gujjars and kept on repeating that the ball was in the corridors of the High Court. The High Court turned down the Gujjars’ plea for five per cent quota in government jobs and gave an order on the basis that there was no irrefutable data, which could justify the granting of five per cent reservations to Gujjars. Thus, the issue of Gujjars remained without a solution and it is difficult to say, which party would gain or lose, as Kirori Lal Meena has floated his own party would contest in 150 seats and he is claiming that both the Congress and the BJP would need his party’s support for forming the government as large number of his party—RJP—and the Independents will have the final say in formation of the government.

However, Vasundhara Raje is now a more matured person and having been given the task of choosing the party’s nominees and with better advising and counseling she would choose the winnables only. It is for the first time that with no wave and the anti-incumbency factor not as strong as it used to be because of the freebies offered by the Gehlot government like free medicine, pensions and free diagnostics support and cheap food grains, it is difficult to predict the eventual outcome. Like the BJP, the Congress is also selecting it candidates with extra caution. The Gelhot government might have decided on 170 seats the remaining 30 seats would be given on the recommendations of other leaders. Thus, the candidates of both the parties will be judged by the electors in a neck-and-neck battle. One is keeping one’s fingers crossed.

By PB Chandra from Jaipur

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