No poll calculation in Rajasthan can be complete without accounting for caste arithmetic. Caste identities in Rajasthan are deeply pronounced, and affect everything from social ties to voting behaviour.
There are four dominant castes in the state — Rajputs, Gujjars, Jats and Meenas. Among them, Rajputs and Jats are rivals, while Gujjars and Meenas are often in competition. All the communities have traditionally supported either the BJP or the Congress, but have also been known to switch loyalties depending on pre-poll factors.
This time, caste equations are arranged tightly, and could tilt either way.
If Vasundhara Raje has to buck anti-incumbency, she will need the blessings of at least two major castes. (Photo: India Today)
The importance caste plays in ensuring a candidate’s victory can be gauged from the fact that both Congress and BJP had asked ticket aspirants to mention their castes when applying for a seat. Also, in several seats, both parties have fielded candidates from the same caste —Brahmins face each other on seven seats, Rajputs on four, Gurjars and Yadavs on two seats each.
Rajputs have traditionally been BJP supporters. Also, Vasundhara Raje, though married to a Jat — Dhaulpur’s Raja Hemant Singh — is a Maratha Scindia by birth.
But the community is irked with the BJP over several reasons: the denial of a poll ticket to Jaswant Singh in 2014, the encounter of gangster Anandpal Singh, whom the Rajputs saw as their answer to Jat gangsters, the sealing of the Rajmahal Palace gates by the Jaipur civic body, to which the Rajput Rani Padmini took major offence, the screening of Padmaavat despite protests, and finally, choosing OBC leader Madanlal Saini over the Rajput Gajendra Shekhawat for the post of BJP Rajasthan unit chief a few months ago.
Rajput anger was one of the reasons for the BJP’s humiliating defeat in the January by-polls, and since then, Shekhawat losing out on the state party head post and Jaswant Singh’s son, Manvendra, joining Congress has only worsened matters. During her recent campaigns, Raje has faced black flags and protests from Rajputs.
This Bollywood movie is apparently still influecing Rajasthan's political theatre. (Photo: PTI/file)
The Congress has smelt opportunity here, and is trying hard to woo the community.
A Rajput surge in favour of the Congress, however, could drive the Jats towards the BJP.
The Jats were Congress supporters initially, after the state government in the decades after Independence abolished the jagirdari system and gave them land rights.
But in 1999, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government gave the community reservation benefits by including them in OBC category, making the BJP popular among them, though the state was ruled by the Congress.
A long-standing grievance of the community has been that despite their electoral and numerical significance, no Jat leader has been Rajasthan’s chief minister.
In 1998, the community had backed the Congress solidly, hoping Paras Ram Maderna would become the CM. But the post went to Ashok Gehlot. Gehlot’s second term as CM, from 2008 to 2013, saw legal action against Paras Ram Maderna’s son Mahipal Maderna, a minister in the Gehlot government who was accused in the Bhanwari Devi murder case.
This time around, too, the entry of Manvendra Singh might overshadow the role of Harish Chaudhary, a Jat, who has been the face of the Congress in this region, Barmer.
In 1998, Jats had hoped the state would have a CM from their community. But the post went to Ashok Gehlot. (Photo: PTI/file)
For the BJP, CM candidate Raje is a Jat bahu. Also, Raje’s government in August 2017 included in the OBC reservation benefit umbrella Jats of the Bharatpur-Dhopur region, who were originally not considered “backward” enough for the quota.
On the flip side, there’s anti-incumbency, and demonetisation pains the Jats experienced.
Queering the pitch is Independent MLA from Khinvsar Hanuman Beniwal, an influential Jat leader who is trying to rally the community and says he will hold no truck with the BJP or the Congress.
The Congress is hoping that Jats mobilising as a caste could polarise Rajputs, Gujjars and Meenas to vote fit it.
Gujjars and Meenas
Gujjars and Meenas are traditional rivals, and while Meenas back the Congress, the Gujjars support the BJP — a prominent display of it in the current polls has been BJP’s Kirodi Lal Meena baiting Congress’ Gujjar face Sachin Pilot.
But this time, fight over the reservation pie has muddied waters.
The Gujjars have long been agitation for reservation, and resent the benefits the Meenas, who are STs, enjoy because of it.
Gujjars sitting on railway tracks as part of their quota protests cost the Railways hundreds of crores. (Photo: PTI/file)
Their decade-long protest has seen community members being shot, disrupted railway traffic and caused the Railways losses in crores, but the demand remains unfulfilled in its entirety.
The Raje government accepted their demand in 2017, and gave them a 5% quota, pushing OBC reservation in the state from 21% to 26%. But this took the total reservation of seats above the legally allowed 50%, and was struck down by the court.
In July this year, the government gave the Gujjars a 1% quota by accommodating them in the 21% OBC reservation.
However, with this, while Gujjars say their demand is still not completely met, the Jats resent the curtailment of their quota.
A faction among the Gujjars also wants to be included among the ST category, putting them on collision course with the Meenas.