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Jats are the latest headache for Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje

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Raje is already facing alienation of BJP’s loyal Rajput vote base. She now has to deal with discontent among Jats.

Nagaur/Sikar/Jhunjhunu: Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, a “Jat ki bahu” or daughter-in-law of a Jat, is facing the ire of the community.

The ruling BJP is already dealing with the alienation of a large section of its loyal Rajput vote base and Raje has reasons to be worried about the disgruntlement of the Jats who constitute 15 per cent of the state’s population.

Traditionally Congress voters, Jats had switched loyalty to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1999 after then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced reservations for the in Rajasthan. Although a section of Jats did vote for the Congress in subsequent elections, they have largely been sympathetic to the BJP.

Both parties are wooing them again ahead of the 7 December elections, with the Congress giving tickets to 33 Jat candidates so far and the BJP to 26.

But Jats in the state are now angry

‘Not getting due’

The anger is palpable and cuts across the urban and rural belt in Nagaur, Sikar and Jhunjhunu, the cradle of Jat politics in the state.

Community members across the three districts that ThePrint visited said they feel betrayed by the BJP as the party did not fulfill the promises it had made, especially to farmers.

“We are not getting the due for the hard labour that we are putting in the field. Vasundhara Raje made such tall promises. We believed and voted for her,” said 83-year-old Mohan Lal Arya, a Jat farmer from Sikar’s Katrathal village.

In the Jat dominated Shekhawati region comprising Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu, the BJP won 10 out of the 21 seats in the 2013 assembly elections.

“Her government waived farm loans but it benefited only a small segment of farmers who had taken loans from cooperative banks. The average farmer who had taken a loan from other banks did not get any waiver,” said Arya.

“Their condition has worsened. We are not getting the MSP (minimum support price) for our produce.”

The Jats had turned to the BJP in 2013 hoping that their community would be better represented in government.

“Despite being one of the dominant communities in the state we have not had a chief minister. The Congress betrayed us in 2008 so we turned to the BJP,” said Jitender Choudhury, a Nagaur businessman.

“But even they failed us. Only five Jat leaders were given cabinet berths in the BJP government,” added Choudhury.

Also read: Modi turns statue unveiling in Haryana into stage to woo Jats and farmers across India

‘Just a perception’

Satish Poonia, Rajasthan state BJP general secretary, however, rubbishes the charge. “It is just a perception that in Rajasthan power alternates between BJP and Congress and no incumbent government returns.”

“Congress has perpetuated the perception for its own benefit. I don’t think people believe this and I don’t believe Congress is so comfortable in the state,” said Poonia.

Poonia, a Jat, is also the co-convenor of the party’s election management committee and in-charge of Jat dominated western Rajasthan.

He said the Raje government not only introduced many schemes of its own such as Bhamasha — where bank accounts are opened in the name of the women head of a family and all subsidies entitled to her family are directly transferred to her account — and farm loan waiver, but also benefitted from Central schemes like Ujjwala, under which LPG connections are given to women from BPL households.

Advantage Congress?

Although the tide on the ground seems to be in favour of the Congress at the moment, party functionaries say that a lot will depend on the candidates.

“Jat votes should not be taken for granted. Distribution of tickets will decide which way their votes will sway. The party has to ensure that local leaders who know the pulse of their area are given tickets,” said Raghuvendra Mirdha, grandson of Ram Niwas Mirdha, one of the most prominent Jat leaders from the state.

The fourth generation Mirdha, a pradesh Congress Committee member, said that over the years, the party did not promote local Jat leaders. “It’s an emotional issue for the community as they aspire to be part of the government.”

Candidate war

The local Congress leadership is also upbeat over a string of leaders from Jat and other communities leaving the BJP. The latest to join the Congress camp include Dausa MP Harish Chandra Meena and sitting Nagaur MLA Habibur Rahman.

Rahman left BJP Wednesday after he was denied a ticket from Nagaur, which was instead given to Mohan Ram Choudhary, a Jat.

There are many Jat contenders from the Nagaur seat in the Congress camp as well, but the party finally gave ticket to Rahman, a five-time MLA, thrice from Congress and twice from BJP. Rahman was also a minister in the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress state government between 2001 and 2003 before defecting to BJP in 2008 after he was denied ticket.

“I joined Congress back without any condition. But people in my area want me to contest,” Rahman told The Print.

Giving a ticket to Rahman would have upset another senior Jat leader from the constituency — Harendra Mirdha, son of Ram Niwas Mirdha — but senior Congress leaders involved in the ticket distribution said a decision was taken by the party not to repeat candidates who have lost a seat twice. Mirdha had lost from Nagaur thrice.

“Also, traditionally Jats support Muslim candidates. So, giving a ticket to Rahman will ensure that he will get both Muslim and Jat votes from the seat,” said a Congress leader who did not wish to be named.

The BJP has put up a Jat candidate from the seat.

Also read: Why the BJP is sleepless over Jats & Muslims joining hands in Uttar Pradesh poll

Other options

Behind the scenes, the Congress is also worried over the growing popularity of young leaders like Hanuman Beniwal, an independent MLA from Khinwsar who has considerable influence among the youth in Jat dominated western Rajasthan.

Beniwal was suspended from BJP in 2012 after a fallout with Raje. In 2013, he fought as an independent candidate and won.

Political analysts say that Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party can emerge as an alternative to the disgruntled Jats who over the years have felt betrayed by both the Congress and BJP.

The young Jat leader, who has a huge following among the youth, is encashing on this sentiment.

“Congress and BJP are the same. Both of them, for their own self interest, did not develop strong Jat leaders. The Jats are now fed up,” Beniwal told The Print.

“They were supporting the parties in the absence of a credible alternative. My party promises to fill this gap. We are not only taking up cudgels on behalf of Jats but for 36 other minority communities in the state such as Muslims and Dalits.”

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