As Rajasthan gears up for election later this year, a Jat gathering in Jaipur today points to a shift in poll arithmetic that may throw up new challenges for both the Congress and BJP.
The ‘mahakumbh’ is being seen as a show of strength by the community in the run-up to the Assembly polls, but the absence of some prominent names from the list of attendees hints at a potential split in Jat votes.
How Important Is Jat Vote
Jats are an influential caste group in Rajasthan’s political landscape and can play a decisive impact on poll results. The community traditionally voted for the Congress since Independence. But in 1999, when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government provided them reservation under the OBC category, they changed their allegiance en masse to the BJP.
Over the next two decades, they largely backed the BJP. But in the run-up to the 2018 state polls, murmurs of resentment grew loud as Jat leaders complained that the community did not get its due. They also raised the demand for a Jat Chief Minister. Then Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje did try to salvage the BJP’s prospects, positioning herself as ‘Jat Ki Bahu’, but results showed it did not work.
Out of the 30 seats where Jats are known to wield influence, the Congress won 18, powering Ashok Gehlot’s journey to power.
What Has Changed Now
The years leading to the 2018 state polls also saw the rise of Hanuman Beniwal, a former BJP leader who formed his own outfit. He subsequently tied up with the BJP. In 2020, when the farmers’ protest against the now-repealed agriculture laws gathered steam, the Jat leader walked out of the NDA, saying no alliance was more important than farmers’ interests.
Interestingly, Mr Beniwal is not part of the Jat mahakumbh in Jaipur, indicating a potential split in the community’s votes.
This emerging poll arithmetic will be keenly watched by the BJP and the Congress as they fine-tune their campaign for the upcoming polls.
Challenge For Congress
The Congress already faces the tall challenge of putting up a united front amid the ongoing tussle between Chief Minister Gehlot and his former deputy Sachin Pilot. Mr Pilot, who led the 2020 rebellion that almost toppled the Congress government, is from the Gurjar community — another influential caste group. He is now touring Jat-dominated areas to rally support for the Congress. While the Congress is projecting the rallies as political outreach, a Jat support base may also provide more political muscle to Mr Pilot within the organisation. Mr Gehlot, who has earlier said that caste cannot determine who gets the Chief Minister post, is also reaching out to the community as the elections approach.
For the BJP too, the road is far from smooth. The party faces the challenge of containing the power tussle between former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Ms Raje’s supporters have already turned her birthday celebrations into a show of strength. The BJP veteran comes from Dhaulpur — one of the two Jat strongholds in Rajasthan. A consolidation of Jat votes will be critical in the BJP’s push for power. A potential split in the community’s votes will require the BJP to reach out to individual leaders, including Mr Beniwal who has severed ties with the NDA. The party has already started attempts to tap into Gurjars’ resentment for Mr Pilot not getting the Chief Minister post.
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