In Rajasthan, Congress Loses Ground as Beniwal And Bainsla Tilt Caste Balance in BJP's Favour
With Hanuman Beniwal and Kirori Singh Bainsla joining hands with the BJP, a sizable section of their influential Jat and Gujjar communities is likely to move to the saffron party in the state.
Dausa MP Harish Chandra Meena (second from right) had jumped ship from the BJP in the presence of Rajasthan Congress leaders on November 14. (PTI)
New Delhi: With less than 20 days to the Lok Sabha elections in Rajasthan, the Congress has lost considerable ground in the state over the last seven days.
Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) chief Hanuman Beniwal announced an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state last week. Two days before the first phase of the polls, retired Colonel Kirori Singh Bainsla and his son, Vijay Bainsla, joined the saffron party. With Beniwal and Bainsla’s induction, a sizable section of two influential communities — Jats and Gujjars — are now likely to sway toward the BJP in the state. These communities had sided with the Congress in Assembly polls last December.
For the Congress, any gains made ahead of the state elections have eroded in quick time. The party, in an attempt to woo Jats, had tried to ally with Beniwal’s RLP. However, the two failed to reach an understanding and Beniwal shook hands with the BJP instead.
Gujjars, who have traditionally supported the BJP, had voted in large numbers for the Congress in December in the belief that Pradesh Congress Committee president Sachin Pilot, a Gujjar himself, would become the chief minister. His relegation to Ashok Gehlot’s deputy did not please the community that makes up about 5% cent of the state’s population.
“Colonel has always been with the BJP since the beginning,” said Vijay Bainsla, referring to his father. “We have seen both parties in great detail and from close quarters, and we found there is a great deal of depth in the way the BJP operates,” he told News18 a day after the father-son duo was welcomed into the fold by BJP president Amit Shah and the party’s Rajasthan election in-charge Prakash Javadekar.
In addition to Pilot’s relegation as deputy chief minister, the Gujjars’ primary cause of displeasure is government inaction over their longstanding demand for 5% reservation in government jobs and colleges in the state. Colonel Bainsla has been the face of the Gujjar stir for reservation in the state for about 14 years. Along with his son, Colonel Bainsla had rallied thousands from the community and occupied a crucial railway line in Sawai-Madhopur in February, demanding that the Congress fulfil its poll promise of Gujjar quota, a point mentioned in the party’s manifesto for Assembly elections.
“The entire community had to take up arms to ask the sitting government to stand by its manifesto and election promise,” said Vijay Bainsla. “We gave them 20 days to look into the matter, but they did not respond.”
Pilot’s silence throughout the agitation further angered the community that had voted for him and the Congress en masse.
Former BBC journalist and political analyst Narayan Bareth believes even though Bainsla’s clout in the community is not unchallenged, his departure to the BJP will harm the Congress.
“In the 2013 state elections, the BJP gave tickets to 10 Gujjar leaders; nine out of them won. The Congress, too, had given tickets to 11 Gujjar candidates, out of which only four won. That means the community had sided with the BJP,” said Bareth.
The situation, however, completely reversed five years later in the Assembly polls. “In 2018, no Gujjar leader won on a BJP ticket. But after the result, the Congress had seven Gujjar MLAs. They thought that someone from their community could become the chief minister.”
Bainsla also hinted that the Congress now stands to lose Gujjar votes in Rajasthan.
“The community had voted en masse for the Congress (in December). They had said that Sachin Pilot would become chief minister. That did not happen. That, coupled with the backtracking on reservation promise, has led to the community feeling cheated. So how it will vote now is anybody’s guess. It’s a logical progression of events,” he said.
For Jats who have historically sided with the Congress, Beniwal became the face of community aspiration and aggression and, thus, a rallying point ahead of the Assembly polls. In its electoral debut, Beniwal’s RLP won three seats — Bhopalgarh, Merta, and Khinvsar.
Beniwal, who was elected as legislator from Khinvser, is now fighting for a seat in the Parliament from Nagaur. And with the BJP backing the Jat leader, a sizable number of votes from the community, which makes up 10% of the state’s population, stand to move toward the saffron party.
Bareth believes Beniwal’s move will make an impact beyond Nagaur.
“Jat youth across regions consider him their leader. Young Jat voters want aggressive leadership, represented by Beniwal,” Bareth said.
In his discussions with Gehlot, Beniwal had put forth two demands: the Nagaur seat for himself, and his choice of Congress leader from Barmer. But the Congress was unwilling to cede ground.
“In Barmer, the Congress could not deny Manvendra Singh a ticket, and neither could they take away the ticket from Jyoti Mirdha in Nagaur,” Bareth said.
Manvendra Singh, son of veteran BJP leader Jaswant Singh, had quit the party over the treatment meted out to his father and joined the grand old party ahead of Assembly polls last year. Denying him a ticket would have meant angering the influential Rajput community in the state.
Mirdha, meanwhile, is Deepender Singh Hooda’s sister-in-law. The three-time Congress MP from Rohtak is the son of former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Despite these setbacks in caste-dominated state politics, the Rajasthan Congress remains confident.
State Social Justice Minister Bhanwarlal Meghwal, who is the senior vice-present of the party’s state unit, said Colonel Bainsla was in the BJP earlier as well but had failed to win elections.
“Those who want to go can go. We can’t stop them. It won’t affect our campaigning,” Meghwal said, adding that Beniwal’s departure would not affect the party’s poll arithmetic. “Hanuman Beniwal was against the Congress earlier. You can note down: Jyoti Mirdha will win from Nagaur,” he said. “For every action, there is a reaction.”
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