New Delhi: Poll-bound Rajasthan is showing signs of paradigm changes in caste equations which may break social coalitions that have influenced electoral outcomes since Independence.
At the centre of altering political fault lines lies the perceptible discomfiture within the Rajput community which are said to form the core vote base of the BJP since Jan Sangh days.
When Jan Sangh was not a force in the first Assembly polls in 1952, Rajput principalities and their leaders rallied around Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad. It won 3 seats in Rajasthan Lok Sabha polls, 24 seats in state assembly.
“In the first Assembly elections, 50 Rajput leaders from different parties won on their seats. It showed the clout of the Rajput community in the state,” says Narayan Bareth, former BBC correspondent in Rajasthan and a professor of journalism in University of Rajasthan.
The Ram Rajya Party later merged with the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and in subsequent elections, Rajputs rallied around the Jan Sangh, the Hindu Maha Sabha and Swantantra Party. After the failed Janata experiment, this vote base shifted to the BJP and propelled Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to chief minister’s chair state thrice. Incumbent CM Vasundhara Raje Scindia has won two elections with a similar social coalition.
This time, developments over the last one month have emboldened the opposition Congress to make a determined bid to snatch a chunk of Rajput votes from BJP’s kitty.
A senior BJP leader in the state told News18 that the feedback from the ground-level workers is not very encouraging. “Voters come and talk to me. Party workers within the community have told me as well.” he said.
There are several reasons for the souring of the relationship that have, over time, accumulated and have resulted in anger in the community toward the BJP.
The BJP denied Lok Sabha ticket to senior leader Jaswant Singh in 2014 from Barmer in favour of Colonel Sonaram who had crossed over from the Congress on the eve of the elections.
“Jaswant Singh was national leader but was later sidelined. He was not a mass leader, but his insult by BJP hurt Rajputs,” says Vikram Singh Taparwada, an executive member of Marwar Rajput Sabha and Rajput Sabha Bhavan, Jaipur.
Jaswant Singh’s son Manvendra, a former BJP MLA from Sheo, quit the BJP and joined the Congress last month.
“I don’t live in isolation, I am a member of the society. I reflect their anger. It is not just an individual anger, it is a societal anger. It is something ingrained in the Indian cultural ethos, where respect and good treatment of your elders is taught right from birth. As people age, you are supposed to give them respect and care. Anger is of course there within the community about my father not being given a ticket. But anger is not just limited to Rajputs,” Manvendra told News18.
In the current Assembly, the BJP has 27 Rajput MLAs, the Congress has two and the BSP has one, bringing the total to 30. The Rajput electorate, though not a very big chunk of the total, has considerable influence.
Rajputs make about 7 to 8 percent of the electorate. But they can't be measured just as vote bank. Their influence must be considered. If there's one Rajput household in a village, they might influence how the entire village votes.
“Rajputs feel cheated by the BJP, especially the younger generation,” claims Jai Singh Rathore, General Secretary of Rajasthan Congress.
Another example of the BJP antagonising Rajputs was the manner in which Madan Lal Saini was appointed state BJP president over Rajput leader Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in June. Shekhawat was tipped to be state president but Saini, believed to be close to Vasundhara Raje, was appointed on the CM’s recommendation.
The death of gangster Anandpal Singh in a police encounter earlier this year also created discomfiture with the community. Singh had a ‘Robinhood’ image, and his encounter along with the way Padmavat controversy was handled did not go down well within the Rajputs.
The Rajput backlash was seen in Rajasthan bypolls in February when the Congress won Lok Sabha seats in Ajmer and Alwar and Assembly seat in Mandalgarh. All three seats were previously held by the BJP. In Alwar, the Congress won by a margin of over 1.96 lakh votes.
In Madalgarh bypoll in Bhilwara district, the BJP put up a Rajput candidate, and Rajputs either did not vote or voted for the Congress’ non-Rajput candidate.
“So the level of anger is not limited geographically, it is not that Barmer is the epicenter of anger. It is across the state,” says Manvendra.
Madan Rathore, BJP MLA from Sumerpur, Pali, agreed that here had been “misunderstandings” between the party and the Rajput community, but maintained that the Rajput vote would go to the BJP. “It is a family (Rajputs and the BJP). There are misunderstandings and displeasure in every family. Family members express their discontent to the head of the family. But they stay in the family. Someone from e outside won’t help them,” he said.