Rajput anger against Padmaavat, currently on display in the form of protests in many states, is set to be one of the defining issues in an upcoming set of bypolls in Rajasthan. The Rajput community has been traditionally behind the ruling BJP but confrontation over the last several months have put that relationship to the test, especially with Rajput organisations pledging support to the Congress.
The Lok Sabha seats of Alwar and Ajmer and the assembly seat of Mandalgarh will go to bypolls Monday. The seats have fallen vacant with the deaths of the MPs and the MLA.
The BJP, which had held all three seats, is fighting not only anger of Rajputs but also resentment of Gujjars, another traditional vote-bank. The government has been unable to meet Gujjars’ demand for 5% reservation, Although it rushed two bills providing for a quota, both were struck down by Rajasthan High Court. During the debate on the second bill, BJP MLAs were among those who questioned the government’s motives as neither bill addressed points raised by the court.
While Gujjar leaders have threatened violence on a number of occasions, Rajput leaders have faced off with the government over Padmaavat and last year’s encounter killing of gangster Anandpal, a Ravana Rajput, besides the 2016 encounter killing of history-sheeter Chatur Singh in Jaisalmer, and reservation.
Fan pages on social media had turned Anandapal into a symbol of Rajput strength, and events of his life were widely associated with Rajput-Jat rivalry. After he was killed in Churu, Rajput leaders demanded a probe by the CBI, which the government eventually called in but not before a bitter standoff.
Last July, Jaipur police cordoned off Shri Rajput Sabha Bhawan while a press conference was on, apparently to search for those accused of instigating violence at Anandpal’s village. This angered top Rajput leaders who were in the building, including Shri Rajput Karni Sena founder-patron Lokendra Singh Kalvi, Shri Rajput Sabha chief Giriraj Singh Lotwara.
As for Padmaavat, formerly Padmavati, the BJP has condemned and banned the movie in the state but Rajput leaders are upset with the BJP-led Centre. In November, the Shri Rajput Sabha wrote to the Prime Minister with an ultimatum of November 12 to ban the movie nationally, which has not happened, besides asking the PM to “warn” I&B Minister Smriti Irani for “formally supporting release of the film”.
The BJP’s worries were made clear by three statements from the Chief Minister’s Office, on October 14, 15 and 24
The first statement followed a programme by CM Vasundhara Raje in Ajmer’s Kekri: “Rajputs and Ravana Rajputs welcomed the CM and said that a false campaign is running that Rajputs and Ravana Rajputs are against BJP and CM Raje… Rajputs and Ravana Rajputs consider BJP its home and CM as its leader.” The following day, also in Ajmer, a CMO statement quoted Kshatrani (Rajput women) as saying the community is with Raje; the CM said the Rajput community will rather sacrifice livese to protect the honour of “others”.
The third statement was about Dudu, part of Ajmer seat: “During the programme, members of Gujjar community expressed their gratitude to the CM and said that members of a particular party are spreading rumours about the Gujjar community. [They said] our community has always been with you…”
Two weeks ago, Rajput organisations announced their support to the Congress, with SRS’s Lotwara saying he had supported BJP for two decades but the BJP is now “ruining us”. He cited a Rs 3.5 crore service tax on the Sabha Bhawan. SRKS, SRS, Pratap Foundation, Marwar Rajput Sabha, Ravana Rajput Sabha, Durga Dal, and several other organisations declared their support to the Congress.
The declaration has led to a widely held view that Jats, traditionally rivals of Rajputs, will go with the BJP. In Ajmer, the BJP candidate is Ramswarup Lamba, a Jat, son of deceased MP Sanwar Lal Jat, Union minister. The Congress has fielded Raghu Sharma, a Brahmin. After the BJP declared its candidate, the PCC issued a statement: “… Having a Jat candidate… it was being considered that Jats will vote for BJP. However, this equation seems to be failing in Sakhoon [a village] where a Jat delegation announced support to Congress.”
In Alwar, state minister Jaswant Singh Yadav faces former Congress MP Karan Singh Yadav. The BJP is also looking at polarisation in a seat with a sizeable Meo population. In Mandalgarh, BJP’s Shakti Singh Hada, a Rajput, faces Congress’s Vivek Dhakad, an OBC.
Other factors that have come into play are unfulfilled farm loan waiver up to Rs 50,000, and the impact of demonetisation and GST.
Test for Raje
With her equations with the Centre and the RSS under scrutiny, CM Raje is under additional pressure; besides, a BJP loss in any seat will be an improvement for the Congress.
The CM campaigned extensively before the bypolls were announced. In Ajmer in October, MoS for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha flew in to inaugurate Ajmer’s Kishangarh airport; Raje said Ajmer will be developed as a ceramic hub and mozzarella cheese will be made there; and announced or inaugurated works worth Rs 6,330 crore. In Alwar, she announced roads at Rs 963 crore will be constructed in National Capital Region under Rajasthan, including in Alwar. In Mandalgarh, she announced works worth Rs 283 crore to provide drinking water to 315 villages, among other sops.
Noting her visits just before the bypoll announcement, the Congress has criticised the BJP for a “work commencement” ceremony of Barmer refinery — addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — as it was held on January 16.
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