Rajasthan assembly polls: Jats, Rajputs hold the key to 43 seats in Marwar
Although the BJP won a large majority across the state in the last election, most political commentators don’t see a repeat in 2018. Vasundhara Raje’s government faces huge anti-incumbency this year.
The Marwar region in western Rajasthan is dotted with sandy tracts of the Thar desert and is characterised by a harsh terrain. Politically, too, the region has been as unpredictable as the shifting of desert sand.
The state’s largest region comprising Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Barmer, Nagaur, Sirohi, Pali, and Jalore districts, Marwar accounts for 43 assembly seats and is crucial for any political party.
Once the home of the Rathore Rajput clan with the grand Umaid Bhawan palace a testimony to their power and influence, Marwar was witness to upheavals during the time of independence that laid the foundation for the Jat-Rajput divide in politics.
An instance of this was seen recently in the appointment of the state BJP president.
The BJP central leadership and the RSS were in favour of Jodhpur MP and union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, a Rajput. But chief minister Vasundhara Raje firmly opposed the appointment of a Rajput to the post, saying it would alienate the Jats who account for around 15% of the population against the Rajputs who constitute around 8%.
History of rivalry
Prior to independence, the Rajputs were the landed aristocracy and wielded power. The Jats were the tenant farmers who tilled the land. It was in this social milieu that the peasant movement began in the then Rajputana.
A leading Jat leader and social reformer of the time, Baldev Ram Mirdha, formed the Marwar Kisan Sabha in 1946 and brought farmers on one platform to vent their grievances against the jagirdars (landed aristocracy).
The Kisan Sabha aimed at land reforms, abolition of forced labour, and declaration of tenancy rights. Mirdha, who was a deputy inspector of police in Jodhpur state, was among the first Jats to receive western education.
Sensing the political mood, he agreed to merge the Kisan Sabha with the Congress party on the eve of the first general elections in 1951. His only demand was that the Congress abolish jagirs (land grants) and bring in a Tenancy Act, which the party did in 1955.
The Tenancy Act and the merger of the Kisan Sabha with the Congress had wide political ramifications. A large number of tillers were Jats and with the new act, they became land owners while the jagirdars who were mainly Rajputs became dispossessed of their lands.
The merger of the Kisan Sabha with the Congress, again benefitted the Jats who came to occupy many important posts in the party. Several of them contested elections and won. The Jats naturally became staunch supporters of the Congress.
After winning the 1951 elections, the Congress undertook welfare measures, such as land reforms, improving health and education services, ensuring rights and justice to all irrespective of caste, class, or gender. Much of the populace that were denied rights under the princely states, naturally became Congress supporters.
The Congress held sway in Marwar for most of the intervening period up to 1998 with the Jats, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Muslims and several OBCs in its kitty.
The snubbed Rajputs, meanwhile, flocked together under the Ram Rajya Parishad and the Swatantra Party and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, which later morphed into the Bharatiya Janata Party. Brahmins and Vaishyas, too, were largely with these parties as they considered the Congress to be against their interests.
There were three significant factors that changed the political landscape in Marwar and drove wedges in the Congress vote bank. Prof Zahur Khan Mehar, former head of the history department at Jay Narayan Vyas University, says, “The main reason for the Jats shunning the Congress was former chief minister Ashok Gehlot.”
In 1998, the Congress won an impressive 153 of 200 seats while the BJP got just 33. Senior Jat leader Parasram Maderna was among the front-runners to the post of chief minister. However, Gehlot, who was then a union minister and close to the Gandhi family, was anointed as chief minister, much to the chagrin of the Jats.
The Jats gave a befitting reply to the Congress in the 2003 elections voting en masse for the BJP. The Congress under Gehlot was reduced to 56 seats while the BJP notched up an impressive tally of 120 seats.
Political analyst Narayan Bareth says, “Another significant move was the announcement of reservation in central government jobs to Jats from Rajasthan by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee before the general elections in 1999. This led to Jats shifting loyalty from the Congress to the BJP and the party’s emphatic wins in the 2003 and 2013 polls.”
Marwar is also the birthplace of panchayati raj in India. Former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru launched panchayati raj from Nagaur in 1959. Ironically, an amendment brought to the Panchayati Raj Act by Nehru’s grandson, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, ended up benefitting the BJP.
“The 93rd amendment which gave reservation in panchayats to women, SCs and OBCs inadvertently helped the BJP gain ground,” says Congress leader Raghuvendra Mirdha.
The BJP, which had till then been struggling to establish itself, got a shot in the arm with the breaking away of Jats from the Congress. While it had the strong backing of the Rajputs, it was unable to strengthen in the grassroots level.
After the Panchayati Raj Act amendment, elections to the panchayats began to be contested on party symbols. This helped the BJP spread its footprint right to the villages, says senior party leader Satish Poonia.
Although the BJP won a large majority across the state in the last election, most political commentators don’t see a repeat of 2013 in 2018. “There is anti-incumbency against the Vasundhara Raje government. All sections of the society, including farmers, youngsters, Brahmins, Rajputs, SCs, and Muslims are unhappy with the government for not delivering on promises,” says Congress leader and former minister Rajendra Chaudhary.
Independent MLA Hanuman Beniwal, who is trying to forge a third front, says the third front will emerge victorious this time as people are fed up with the Congress and the BJP.
“Youth, farmers, traders and all sections want change. They are tired of the deception by the Congress and the BJP. Both are corrupt and have failed to provide development,” says Beniwal.
First Published: Sep 09, 2018 00:21:51