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Will BJP's Gambit to Align With Hanuman Beniwal Counter-polarise Non-Jat Vote in Rajasthan?

It isn't just BJP loyalists, Beniwal's aggressive Jat politics has polarised a lot of communities like Rajputs, Muslims, and Dalits who together represent nearly 40% of the electorate towards the opposite end - the Congress.

Suhas Munshi | News18.com

Updated:May 4, 2019, 11:47 AM IST
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Will BJP's Gambit to Align With Hanuman Beniwal Counter-polarise Non-Jat Vote in Rajasthan?
People assembled together at a village in Nagaur.

On the bus from Sikar to Nagaur, a debate on BJP versus Congress broke out between the bus conductor and a passenger. After a while, another passenger also intervened.

Passenger 1: Tell me what wrong did Modi do? Name one, why don't you?

Passenger 2: He gave aircraft deal to Ambani.

Pax 1: Why, should he give it to you?

Conductor: Unemployment is at a record high.

Pax 1: Only middlemen are unemployed.

Conductor: Congress used to give us several benefits but BJP snatched them all away. Privatised several routes.

Pax 1: Look at this greedy bunch. At an age when they should go to Haridwar and spend time in spirituality, they're asking for more perks. Learn to think for the nation.

Conductor: If at all BJP is a party of saints and all its candidates are saintly, then why change them this time?

Pax 1: Because everyone deserves a chance?

Conductor: Then why not change every candidate? And why give ticket to someone who till yesterday was spending all his time abusing BJP leaders?

The conductor seemed to have hit a nerve there. Pax 1 fell silent. Eventually the fierce dispute gave way to laughter, shoulder claps and an admission from Pax 1 that he himself was quite anxious about job prospects of his daughter.

But the question about BJP's candidate from Nagaur, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) leader Hanuman Beniwal, remained. The aggressive Jat leader who had won two seats in the assembly polls last year, denouncing the very party which he has now allied with - the BJP - is making some saffron party loyalists uncomfortable.

News18 travelled to several villages in Nagaur including Firoda to get a ground sense. In this Jat-dominated village, Jat who were rooting for BJP's Jat nominee Ram Chaudhary during last year's assembly elections banished Meghwals (SCs) from the village for voting for the Congress.

It's been nearly six months since the Jats stopped supplies of essential items like milk and daily groceries to Meghwals. For a period of 10 days, in fact, Jats had stopped water supply to the Meghwals by ordering them to stay away from the local lake. Meghwals are still not employed at Jat homes.

"We will vote for the Congress even if you cut our fingers off. I have one vote and come what may, it is going to the Congress," a lady in Meghwal part of Firoda declared. Meghwals still need to travel all the way to Nagaur city to get their basic supplies. Each trip costs them money that they can barely afford.

"You know what happened. The Jats said we had voted like Muslims...that we should convert to Islam because we voted against the BJP. We haven't seen Jyoti. We've just heard her name. It doesn't matter who the candidate is. It doesn't matter if she wins or loses. Our vote is decided," a middle-aged man says. A small crowd gathers around. Everyone asserts their preference for the Congress but none of them want their pictures taken or their names published.

While the Meghwals continue being punished for exercising their right to vote, it matters little that some of the Jats in the same village are also voting for the Congress' Jat candidate Jyoti Mirdha.

"She introduced pension for the elderly. Beniwal has ruined the younger generation who instead of studying are roaming around him like hoodlums. Also, the respect for Nathuramji is still there. She is our daughter," says middle-aged well-to-do Jat farmer Ram Kishore.

Back in Nagaur city, Bhairon Singh, a Rajput who works as a driver also looks at the Congress candidate with similar warmth. "Uska swabhaav theek nahi hai. Pure 36 biradari ko saath leke chalna chahiye. Beniwal ko harana ab muuch ka sawaal ban gaya hai. Jyoti hamari beti hai. Jeet usi ki hogi. (His behaviour is not good. You must work with all 36 communities alike. Now, to defeat Beniwal is a matter of prestige. Jyoti is our daughter. She will win.)"

Muslims as well, who also voted for the BJP till recently, given the popularity of their leader Habibur Rehman, who was a BJP MLA from Nagaur, and now has joined the Congress, are expressing their resentment against the saffron party.

"Three people from our village have been gored to death by stray cattle. Every time we call the gaushala they refuse to act. What are we to do? When Modi talks of vikas doesn't he have our concerns in mind," Mohd Suleiman Rizvi says outside the Masjid in Basni village.

It isn't just BJP loyalists, Beniwal's aggressive Jat politics has polarised a lot of communities like Rajputs, Muslims, and Dalits who together represent nearly 40% of the electorate towards the opposite end - the Congress.

Though this doesn't mean that in the battle with the BJP, Congress is sailing through comfortably.

By allying with the BJP, Beniwal is helping the BJP influence the Jats who are numerically dominant in not just Nagaur but in the entire 'Jat belt' of Sikar, Churu, Jhunjhunu and not so dominant Jat seats like Barmer and Jodhpur.

In Nagaur itself, where Beniwal had won an assembly seat in the recent polls, he has created an image of an approachable Jat leader whose doors are also open to people from other communities.

In Tausar village, Tarachand Sankla, a Mali by caste, the same caste as the current Chief Minister’s, says, "Beniwal gets our work done. You can go to his house in Nagaur anytime and meet him." Brand Modi, around which the BJP has tried to polarise the elections in Rajasthan, also adds to Beniwal's personal charm. In the same village another Mali, Vikram Singh, says he's voting for Beniwal only because he is BJP's choice there and voting for him will bring Modi one step closer to being in PM's chair again.

BJP also tried, with some success, to project Mirda as an outsider, someone who lives in Haryana and barely has time for Nagaur. But if she's an outsider how come she won this Parliamentary seat in '09?

"She won it because of her grandfather Nathuramji and her father. Otherwise no one knows her in this area. Beniwal lives next door. How will we approach Jyoti if we have some work? We can knock on Beniwal's home at night and be assured that he will try his best for us," says Shivraj Jakhar, a Jat, in village Ramsya. His friend, also a Jat, says Jat votes would have been split if Beniwal had fought again as an independent. "But now Modi plus Beniwal has become the winning combination."

Despite the Modi wave in 2014, Beniwal had secured nearly 1.6 lakh votes as an independent candidate from Nagaur.

Of the 16 elections that have been held for this Parliamentary seat, Congress has won Nagaur 10 times. Jyoti Mirdha’s grandfather and Jat leader Nathuram Mirdha won the seat six times. History may be on Congress' side. But Beniwal, who's aggressive and ambitious must be hoping for the present - the youth among who he has a great appeal - to help him climb up and beyond Rajasthan.

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| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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