Sunday, October 26, 2008

Political Uncertainty In Rajasthan

By Roger Alexander

Rajasthan elects its next legislature in six weeks and politics in the hot weather state is hotting up further. While it is a direct contest between the ruling BJP and Congress, a new set of political developments are queering the pitch for the traditional rivals.

The most important, of course, is the rise of the BSP and Mayawati’s growing popularity in the state. The other is the ‘Gujjar conundrum.

The BSP may not have big names on its rolls but has an early-bird advantage of starting is poll campaign much before the BJP and Congress. In fact, the party released its list of 155 candidates for the Assembly polls in Rajasthan and 13 for Lok Sabha elections way back on September 1.

The list included the name of Jagat Singh, son of former External Affair Minister K Natwar Singh. The remaining 45 candidates will be named in the next few days. “We are hopeful of the successful implementation of the UP formula that brought us to power in Lucknow,” says state party chief Durgaram Gader.
Apart from the traditional Dalit votes, the party is likely to garner sizeable minority and Jat votes. The inclusion of former Congress MP Natwar Singh and his son Jagat Singh has facilitated its entry into Bharatpur district, a Jat stronghold.
The Jats are visibly upset with Congress over the issue of making a Jat CM. They can vote in favour of BSP with the hope of a Jat CM in Natwar Singh. Also, the minority, having tested both the Congress and BJP can give a chance to the BSP following its favourable attitude towards them in UP.

In the last elections, the BSP polled 5 per cent of the votes to win two seats out of 124 constituencies it contested. “Last time, we went for the poll with only eight-month preparations. Even then, the margin between our candidates and the winning MLAs was barely 4-5 per cent. This time, we are fielding our candidates on all the 200 seats. We have our plans cut out with hard work of four-and-a-half years behind us. We will definitely upset all political calculations,” claims Gader.
Indeed, the BSP has already fielded its grass root workers in a door-to-door campaign in areas where it hopes to make inroads even before the Congress and BJP have finalised their candidates. With a strong presence in eastern Rajasthan districts adjoining Uttar Pradesh — Bharatpur, Karauli and Sawai Madhopur — the BSP is also trying to make its presence felt in tribal areas of southern districts Udaipur, Banswara, Pratapgarh and Dungarpur.

“We have the right mix of candidates. We have given tickets to candidates belonging to 40 castes. Around 100 are Meenas while 40 are Brahmin and Rajput candidates; we want to give a comprehensive image to the party,” claims Gader.
Besides the BSP, the Gujjars too have skewed all political calculations. The Gujjars can tilt the scales in around 17 seats in the Sawai Madhopur, Dausa and Bharatpur districts and their leader Kirori Singh Bainsla could well play the role of kingmaker in Rajasthan in the case of a hung assembly.

There is said to be huge pressure building on Bainsla from within the community to float a Gujjar-specific party. However, this commentator believes that it is rather late in the day for such a move, even if the limited aim is to win a few seats and a voice in the state assembly.

Indeed, Bainsla has indicated publicly that rather than float his party, he would rather support the BJP, which means he’d rather extract as many tickets from the BJP for the Gujjar candidates. However, that is easier said than done as the BJP has a strong following among the rival Meenas. So watch out for some tightrope walking from Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.

She is sure to make the pitch that she was instrumental in carving out a special quota for them. Indeed, recently at a public meeting in New Delhi Bainsla said the state BJP had done whatever best it could for the Gujjars and that it was Congress-led UPA which was refusing to grant the Gujjars ST status.

The waters may be muddies at the moment and a clearer picture will emerge next week when electioneering will resume in right earnest after Diwali.

Roger And Out

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