Sikar: The mat of the board game is rolled out. A four-sided wooden die is cast. Cowries or pawns are carefully arranged. Players take their seats under a banyan tree. Ten kilometres from Sikar, at Lakshman Ka Baas or Lakshman's abode, the game of chaupar or chausar, which defined the epic battle of Mahabharata, is in full swing.
Amidst banter and guffaws, the players and audience dissect and discuss - what else but politics. Two campaign vehicles pass by. Both are out canvassing for Rashtriya Loktantrik Party.
RLP is the new kid on the block. Formed earlier this year by independent MLA from Nagaur Hanuman Beniwal, its support base is essentially Jats, especially the youth in the community.
Beniwal has fielded almost five dozen candidates out of 200 seats in the assembly. He has tied up with smaller parties. HD Kumaraswamy in Karnataka has inspired many wannabe CMs north of the Vindhyas.
"We have experimented with many parties. This time in Sikar since RLP has a strong candidate, we may vote for it,” says a villager in Jat-dominated Lakshman Ka Baas.
Wahid Chauhan is Beniwal's candidate from Sikar city. A businessman and philanthropist, he got more than 40,000 votes on an NCP ticket when he contested and lost in 2013.
"I wanted a Congress ticket. I can't join the BJP. What would I have done if Congress denied me an opportunity? I think fighting as RLP nominee will provide me enough fillip in the Jat community to emerge victorious,” says Chauhan.
Hanuman Beniwal's RLP counts on Jats as its main support base.
Shekhawati, comprising 21 seats in the three northern districts of Rajasthan - Churu, Sikar and Jhunjhunu - has traditionally been a Congress bastion.
Jats, Muslims and Dalits - the three together are numerically a formidable combination. During the Modi wave ahead of 2014 general elections, BJP in assembly polls could win only 11 out of these 21 seats when its strike rate in other parts of the state was more than 80%.
In 90s, BJP and former CM Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had realised the folly of ignoring Jats. The party expanded its base and reaped the harvest for the first time in 2003 when Vasundhara Raje became the CM with a full majority.
During her second tenure, Shekhawati has been the epicentre of the farmers’ unrest. The protests, demanding a loan waiver and better MSP, was led by Communist Party of India (Marxist), which also has a support base among the agrarian community like Jats.
With RLP aggressively wooing Jats, Congress candidate in Sikar city has decided to poach on the traditional BJP vote bank - the Rajputs. The caste fault lines between the two vocal and aggressive communities - Jats and Rajputs - runs through the state wherever they are in sizable numbers.
So, earlier this week, Congress candidate against RLP's Wahid Chauhan invited Anand Pal's family to campaign for him in Sikar town. Pal, a history sheeter, from adjoining Nagaur district, was killed in a police encounter last year triggering protests from the Rajput community.
Embers of those protests are still smouldering in rural Rajasthan. Rajputs since independence have been the solid base vote of non-Congress parties. Any chinks here may have electoral ramifications for the BJP.
BJP supporters, however, feel the loss would be minimal. On Sikar-Jaipur road, Dinesh Parikh runs a tea stall. An ardent BJP follower, he has never voted for any other party. On the voting day, he will do the same, he says, irrespective of who the BJP candidate is.
He's full of stories on how local permutations and combinations will work. Where will Jats vote? How will Rajputs react? Will Brahmins re-align since Congress has given ticket to a leader from the Community in the city? On the outcome of the elections in Rajasthan, however, he does not want to say much.