March 30, 2020
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The Thar Won't Yield Its Secrets

The Jats waver between poles—so do their antagonists. Drought will fracture an already caste-riven verdict.

The Thar Won't
Yield Its Secrets
The Thar Won't Yield Its Secrets

Divided We Rule:

  • Congress fails to cash in on the resentment among jats.
  • Muslims upset with the Congress for giving ticket to only one candidate from the community
  • BJP a clear winner with the Congress campaign machinery in disarray
  • Drought in four districts could impact BJP prospects

Can the BJP build on its successes in the assembly elections last year and sweep the Lok Sabha polls here or will the Congress regain some lost ground? Several realignments have taken shape since Vasundhararaje stormed to power. And some of these on paper do look tilted in favour of the Congress. The big question is: can the party make capital of the situation? Common consensus in Jaipur is that if the Congress has to make gains, its leaders have to put aside their petty squabbling. And that hasn’t quite happened.

A realignment of caste groups, especially that of the Jats, had offered the Congress a window of opportunity. Having achieved its goal of getting rid of Ashok Gehlot as chief minister with the backing of his rivals, the Jats were no longer as enthusiastic about the BJP. Besides, the community has traditionally been with the Congress and Vasundhararaje’s government looked to have failed to live up to the promises it had made.

But the Congress failed to strike when the moment was right. This gave the BJP a chance to placate the community. So, for the first time, it has fielded seven Jats in the state which sends 25 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Jat leader Jagdeep Dhankar says this move has sent a strong signal to the community. Moreover, Jat actor Dharmendra is not only contesting, but is also a star campaigner who accompanies Vasundhararaje to most meetings. What is not clear is whether the crowds at the rallies will translate into actual votes.

Because, despite the BJP’s overtures, there has been no clear commitment from the Jat community. Says Rajasthan Jat Mahasabha president Raja Ram Meel: "The Jats will remain more or less with the BJP ." This is markedly ambiguous compared to the unequivocal declarations and vows to overthrow the Congress made during the assembly polls. Meel also chose not to react to the welcome accorded by the BJP to Rajput leader Devi Singh Bhati. He is also the president of the Social Justice Front (SJF) which was formed as a reaction to the BJP giving OBC status to Jats. The BJP expects Bhati to get Rajput votes for Manvendra Singh in Barmer and western Rajasthan.

The SJF itself is a divided house. Convenor Satya Narayan Singh, incidentally an OBC himself, now says with the organisation practically "dead", he’s formed the OBC Arakshan Manch (OBC Reservation Forum). According to Singh, the forum will give a call to the OBCs to vote against the BJP and Jats as well.

Jat politics has provoked another reaction, which is bad news for the Congress. Annoyed that several of its candidates in western Rajasthan were defeated in the assembly elections since the Jats did not vote for them, the Muslims have made it clear that the Jats in turn should not expect their votes. Even if they are contesting on a Congress ticket. Efforts to assuage their feelings have met with little success. General secretary of the Rajasthan unit of the All India Milli Council, Abdul Qayoom Akhtar, says the Muslims had a feeling of being taken for granted and that the reaction was not just over what the Jats did but about what the Congress was doing as well. "It has fielded just one minority candidate as a token, and from Ajmer where he is bound to lose," he says.

Meanwhile, mere caste equations are unlikely to play a role in constituencies where real concerns dominate people’s minds. The Udaipur subdivision is reeling under severe drought. In Bhilwara district, villagers have started migrating in large numbers from 172 villages due to severe drinking water shortage. Several villages of Rajsamand, Udaipur and Dungarpur districts are also reported to be in the grip of drought. The Congress is yet to focus on such issues. Time is running out, Rajasthan goes to the polls on May 5.

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