Voters in Rajasthan are known to vote out the incumbent government every five years. By merely looking at this trend we can say that Congress has an advantage. Adding to this is a popular opposition against the BJP Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. But the Congress fumbled with the initial lead that it secured and now the fight is on a more even terrain.
Caste politics takes precedence over any economic issue in Rajasthan during elections. The allegiance of four communities; Rajputs, Jats, Gujjars and Meenas determine the results in over 140 out of the 200 assembly seats in the state. But trying to garner support from one community can trigger dissent from another. In the west side of the state, the rivalry has persisted over decades between the Rajputs and Jats and in the East between the Gujjars and Meenas.
Let’s take a look at who can possibly accrue the votes from the four communities:
The shift in traditional allegiance of the Rajputs
In the 1950s, before the first general elections, the Congress abolished the Jagidar system, this led to a larger number of Jats, who were tillers, becoming landowners and a large number of Rajputs being dispossessed of their land. Hence the Rajputs grew hostile towards the Congress and became supporters of the Ram Rajya Parishad, the Swatantra party and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh which later merged into the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Rajputs can determine the outcome of around 30 seats and this time around, the loyalty of this vote bank towards the BJP may be affected because of the numerous encounters between Raje and the community in the past four years. The apparent nonchalance of the government when cases were lodged against Rajput leaders when Jats apparently looted and burned Rajput houses in Samrau village, enraged the community. Adding to this was Raje’s opposition to the appointment of Union Agricultural Minister for state Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, an influential Rajput leader from Jodhpur as state BJP chief, for fear of the effects this move would have on the Jats.
Several leaders of the community like Lokendra Singh Kalvi and leaders of Rajput Sabha like Giriraj Singh Lotwara have vowed to vote out the BJP. To capitalise on this growing animosity of the Rajputs towards the BJP, Congress recruited former BJP Union Minister Jaswant Singh’s son, Manvendra Singh after he quit the BJP in October. Singh’s family can influence several constituencies in the Marwar region. But the Congress’ candidate list caused a minor revolt. Raje, on the other hand, has carefully hand-picked the BJP candidates. One such example is her decision to nominate Kalpana Raje, wife of former Congress MP Ijyaraj Singh in Kota. Moreover, the Congress has nominated only 15 Rajputs while the BJP has nominated 26.
The Congress hasn’t officially declared a chief ministerial candidate, but the possibility of Sachin Pilot becoming the Chief Minister if Congress were to win is highly likely. Whereas if the BJP were to retain power, Vasundhara Raje will continue to hold the post of chief minister. Pilot belongs to the Gujjar community while Raje is a Rajput. Some of the Rajputs may desire to have a chief minister from within their ranks, and this may overshoot their desire to vote out the BJP.
A three-way split of Jat votes
The loyalty of the Jats towards the Congress naturally grew after the Jagidari system was abolished. But the close relationship between the community and the party was affected in 1998 when one of the contenders for the chief ministerial post, Parasram Maderna, a senior Jat leader was overlooked for Ashok Gehlot. This enraged the community and in 2003, they made their anger visible by voting en masse for the BJP. Also, in 1999, the Vajpayee government included them in the other backward classes (OBC) category for reservation in education and jobs. Owing to all this, the Jat votes are usually split between the Congress and BJP.
In the 2013 assembly elections, they enthusiastically supported the BJP. But this time around the Jats are not happy with the saffron party. They feel they have no voice and still perceives the BJP as pro-Rajput. This is bad news for the incumbent government as Jats have an effect on around 55 seats, over 25 percent of the seats in the assembly. Hence, gaining their trust is crucial for any election in the state.
The weakening ties between the Jats and the BJP can work in favor of the Congress but the Jats also feel they have never received their due from the grand old party. Apart from this, the emergence of a new Jat party and a few missteps by the Congress can cost them the Jat votes.
Hanuman Beniwal is the leader of the new Rashtriya Loktantrik Party. He has formed an alliance with former BJP leader Ghyanshyam Tiwari’s, Bharat Vahini Party. Beniwal has influence in Nagaur but not in the rest of Shekhwati region. But the Congress doesn’t have any prominent Jat faces within the party which can work in favour of Beniwal, who has been actively campaigning in the region trying to form a prominent third front in the state. The Congress realising the possible shift of Jat votes started working for Rajput votes. As mentioned before, Manvendra Singh joining the Congress can secure the party Rajput votes but this may have the opposite effect on Jat votes.
Hence, no one party will secure a majority of the Jat votes.
Electoral impact of the Gujjar reservation conundrum
Gujjars are a pastoral agricultural ethnic group spread across different north Indian states. In Rajasthan, they mainly belong to the Hindu community, though in other parts of the country they also belong to the Muslim and Sikh community. The relevance of Gujjars is important in the wake of Rajasthan assembly elections as they have an influence on around 35 seats.
Gujjars have historically been under the wrath of the state. The British Indian government classified them as ‘criminal tribes’ after their participation in the 1857 revolt. They are largely rural and backward in nature. They are classified under OBC category in Rajasthan. But there has been a long-standing demand by Gujjar organizations to include the community in the ST category. This demand turned into violent protests after Jats, who comprise 10% of the state population, were included under OBCs.
Currently, Gujjars are demanding 5 percent exclusive quota within OBC. The Raje government gave 1 percent additional reservation to Gujjars and four other castes under Most Backward Classes (MBC). But this move has not pacified them.
The Gujjars have traditionally been BJP voters but this started changing when Rajesh Pilot was at the helm of the Congress. The influence of the community is confined to the Mewar region, which comprises Rajmasand, Udaipur, Banswara and Chittorgarh. Currently, the Raje government is unpopular among Gujjars due to friction with respect to the reservation. The emergence of Sachin Pilot, a Gujjar, as a prominent leader in Rajasthan Congress and a possible chief minister has made Gujjars look towards Congress.
The socio-economic tensions prevalent among Gujjars and failure of the Raje government to meet their demands is likely to cause the Gujjars to vote for Congress party in the current elections.
The decision makers in Dhuandhar and Mewat
Meenas, who claim to be the descendants of Lord Vishnu and Matsya kingdom, are concentrated in eastern Rajasthan. Meenas constitute 7 percent of the state population. They are a scheduled tribe and are dominant in the majority of the districts in Mewat and Dhuandhar. This makes them influential in around 35 assembly seats of Rajasthan.
They are the most literate ST community in Rajasthan. Due to the ST status accorded to them many decades ago, they have good representation in government services and professional jobs.
Though the Meenas traditionally vote for Congress, the return of Kirodi Lal Meena, a Meena heavyweight, to BJP might sway them towards voting for the incumbent party. The prominent Meena leader in Congress is Ramesh Meena who can influence a lot of voters in the community as well.
The affluence of the Meena community had led to friction with Gujjars, who are largely backward. Gujjars, who are under OBC, are unhappy with their sorry state. Though Meenas don’t have serious election issues, Sachin Pilot’s lead role in Congress might scare them away from voting for them.