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HomeIndiaPilot-Gehlot feud hurt Gujjar hopes in Rajasthan. Now Modi's paying their god...

Pilot-Gehlot feud hurt Gujjar hopes in Rajasthan. Now Modi’s paying their god a visit

PM Modi's visit to pay homage to Gujjar deity Shree Devnarayan in poll-bound Rajasthan is being seen as BJP's attempt to woo the influential community, draw them away from Congress.

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Jaipur: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will today visit the remote Malaseri Dungri village in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district to pay homage to the Gujjar deity Shree Devnarayan.

This show of reverence is being seen by political observers as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) attempt to woo the influential community at a time when their prominent leader, Congress’ Sachin Pilot, is locked in a battle for chief ministership with Ashok Gehlot.

Coming as it does ahead of the assembly elections in the state, scheduled for later this year, observers said the visit is meant to send a strong message to the Gujjar community which, according to the Congress and BJP leaders ThePrint spoke to, has a strong influence in 35 to 40 of the state’s 200 assembly seats, and at least 12 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan.

The power struggle between Pilot and Gehlot has raised concerns within the ruling Congress in the state, and its leaders fear it might cost the party dearly in the coming elections if the high command does not intervene and resolve the impasse.

BJP sources in Rajasthan told ThePrint that the PM could make some important announcement for the betterment of the community during his visit. 

While all the nine Gujjar candidates fielded by the BJP in 2018 assembly elections lost, seven of the 11 candidates from the community fielded by the Congress won, including Sachin Pilot from Tonk, Ashok Chandna from Bundi, Shakuntala Rawat from Bansur and Indraj Singh Gurjar from Virat Nagar. Later, Joginder Singh Awana, a Gujjar who won on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket, joined the Congress taking its overall Gujjar tally to eight. 

According to political commentator Naresh Dadhich, former vice-chancellor of Vardhaman Mahaveer Open University, Kota, Modi’s visit to Malaseri’s Devnarayan temple is aimed at rallying the Gujjar community behind the BJP.

“The Gujjar community in the state is not organised today. There is a leadership vacuum after the death of Kirori Singh Bainsla, the tallest leader of the community, last year. Gujjars had voted for the Congress in 2018 in the hopes that Sachin Pilot will be made the CM, a first for the community. But that did not happen and Gujjars are likely to drift away from the Congress. The BJP sees an opportunity here, which they are tapping,” he said. 

Vijay Bainsla, who heads the Gujjar Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti, told ThePrint that the Devnarayan temple holds great religious significance for the community. Gujjars from not just Rajasthan but adjoining states including Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, visit in large numbers to pray here.

Bainsla joined the BJP in 2019 along with his late father Kirori Singh Bainsla. “I am happy that Modi ji is visiting the Malaseri Dungri temple. The visit will benefit the community at large,” he said. 

Though he is with the BJP, Vijay Bainsla said, the party should not take the community for granted. “We are very clear. If the BJP does not position a strong Gujjar leader against the strong leadership of Gujjar in the Congress, the community will make up its own mind. The BJP will have a problem in the coming assembly elections,” he said.

Also Read: Decision on Pilot-Gehlot stalemate will be taken after Bharat Jodo: Rajasthan Congress in-charge

‘Not a political visit’ 

Satish Poonia, Rajasthan BJP chief, however, said one should not link everything to politics.

“The PM’s visit is religious and cultural in nature, not political. It’s part of his mission to restore ancient temples and conserve our cultural heritage like the Kashi Vishwanath temple corridor that was redeveloped. One should not link everything to politics,” he told ThePrint.

However, state BJP leaders, off-the-record, said the party is trying to bring the Gujjars back to its fold. “They are an important constituent of OBC (Other Backward Class) voters and the PM’s temple visit will send out a strong message to the community. The PM is also likely to make some announcements to develop a temple corridor here on the lines of the Kashi Vishwanath corridor,” said a BJP leader on condition of anonymity. 

Gujjars comprise approximately 9 per cent of the population and primarily wield influence in eastern Rajasthan. 

A senior state BJP leader, who did not want to be named, said that it’s an established fact that Gujjars vote as a community and in 2018, they sided with the Congress because they thought that Pilot could become CM. “But things have changed now. The ongoing turf war between Pilot and CM Ashok Gehlot has created uncertainty among the community. We want them to be back with us and are reaching out to the community,” he added. 

He said the BJP is going all out to organise the mega event. “Hundreds of BJP workers are on the ground in Asind making arrangements. Union minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, along with state BJP leaders, is overseeing the arrangements being made.”    

‘Gujjars were not seen as political community earlier’ 

Currently, Gujjars along with four other communities — Banjara, Gadia-Lohar, Rebari and Gadaria — avail 5 per cent reservation in government jobs and educational institutions provided by the Rajasthan government under the most backward class (MBC) category.

Besides this, they also get 1 per cent reservation under the most backward class (MBC) category.  

Gujjars, Dadhich said, were not considered a political community earlier. “It was Kirori Singh Bainsla who started organising the community when he led the 2007 agitation demanding that the community be brought under the Scheduled Tribes category. Over three dozen people were killed in the agitation that turned violent,” he said. 

The agitation ended after the state government promised them that their demands would be considered. But Gujjars under Bainsla resumed their agitation again in 2008 when their demands were not fulfilled. The violence that erupted killed 42 people.

“It was then that political parties started taking notice. It was Kirori Singh Bainsla who politically organised the Gujjar community and made them important voting constituents,” Dadhich added. 

Bainsla led two more agitations in 2010 and 2019 after which the Gehlot government passed a bill giving 5 per cent reservation to Gujjars and four other nomadic communities who were also agitating for it.  

Gujjars, along with the four MBC communities, Vijay Bainsla said, can sway vote banks. “In 75 of the 200 assembly seats, the MBCs constitute between 28,000 to 78,000 votes. Today, 37 of the MLAs in the assembly get elected with the support of the MBCs and 85-90 per cent of MBCs are Gujjars. In the Lok Sabha, they can impact 12 out of the 25 seats in Rajasthan. So why shouldn’t the MBCs have more political representation? Our fight is for that,” he added.

Gujjar leader Joginder Singh Awana, who had joined the Congress in 2018 from the BSP, told ThePrint that the 1,111th birth anniversary of Shree Devnarayan is a very holy event and should not be politicised. 

Awana, also the chairman of the Devnarayan Board that has been mandated to implement schemes for the welfare of the community, said, “The fact remains that it is under the Congress government that the Gujjars got 5 per cent reservation. Though the Devnarayan board was set up by the BJP government in 2008 and schemes were rolled out, it was the Gehlot government that expanded the schemes and made them effective.”  

(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)

Also Read: How BJP plans to unite splintered Rajasthan unit & counter Bharat Jodo with Jan Aakrosh Yatra


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