Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje (left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a function in March 2018. Photo: AFP/ NurPhoto
Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje (left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a function in March 2018. Photo: AFP/ NurPhoto

Two new political parties in Rajasthan have significantly altered power equations for the state assembly elections scheduled for December 7.

Former Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) member and prominent Jat (agricultural community) leader Hanuman Beniwal launched the Rashtria Loktantrik Party (RLP), which has formed a Third Front with another former BJP MLA and Brahmin (upper-caste Hindu) leader Ghanshyam Tiwari, who launched the Bharat Vahini Party.

Together, these two leaders have the potential to weaken the ruling BJP’s vote share among these communities in Rajasthan.

Jats, once a strong political force in Rajasthan who accounted for 15-18 % of votes, have lately been losing their political clout after successors of former popular Jat legislators failed to develop the same bond with their community.

Beniwal has been working to strengthen his bond with the Jat community for the past 10 years and has finally managed to gain the attention of the Jat youth. They compare him with other popular community leaders like Nathuram Mirdha, Ram Niwas Mirdha, Parasram Maderna and Sisram Ola.

“They were known to fight for people’s rights and could attract everyone’s attention, (and) Beniwal has similar traits,” said Ram Achra, an RLP worker.

For farmers of all communities

Beniwal’s support to farmers over several contentious issues in the past five years has not only generated support from the Jats, but also from farmers belonging to other communities like Meghwal, Meena, Mali and even Muslims.

Speaking with Asia Times, Beniwal said, “I am not a leader of just the Jat community, but have been leading all 36 communities of the state. I have been fighting with the government for everyone’s issues.”

He hit out at Congress and the BJP, the two main political parties who have ruled the state for the past 25 years, and asked, “In a state were 65% of the population is dependent on agriculture, who is the government working for? Farmers have been committing suicide due to huge debts, (and) their electricity is (also) cut for not paying even small dues.”

Beniwal promised that such farmers’ issues would be solved if his party comes to power in Rajasthan.

“Farmers were given due attention during the leadership of people like Mirdha, Maderna and Ola. (Since) their deaths there has been no leader left who can fight for the demands of the Jat community. That is why I took up this morcha (rally),” he said.

The Jat community believes that Beniwal has fought the good fight in the long-standing rivalry between the Jats and the Rajputs (upper caste Hindus), specifically over the killing of Jyotirama Gorera, a Jat, in 2006 by Anandpal Singh, a Rajput.

Beniwal had put pressure on the government to bring Gorera to justice until Singh was killed in an encounter in 2017.

“Beniwal highlighted that the murder was a conspiracy of ministers Yunus Khan and Rajendra Singh Rathore,” said Prabhu Chopra, a party worker. “He fought for the community for 12 years, (and) that is why we are supporting him.”

Not all Jats are on same page

There are differing views among the community and not all Jats support the RLP leader.

“We have never claimed that Rajasthan Jat Mahasabha is supporting Beniwal or his party,” said Raja Ram Meel, President of the organization.

“We will neither support Beniwal, nor the BJP. We do not wish to support a leader who only talks about self-interest and misguides the youth,” Meel said.

But past performances of Jat leaders who left the BJP to float their own parties have not been encouraging.

Jat member of the legislative assembly (MLA) Kirori Lal Meena fought the 2013 election after leaving the BJP to form the Rashtriya Jantantrik Party, but he was able to win only four seats despite making huge promises to farmers. Meena recently rejoined the BJP.

Now, Beniwal seems to be following the same route. He has made promises to farmers about the availability of water and electricity supplies, the usage of solar energy for agriculture and releasing them from debt traps.

Although Rajasthan has not seen a “Third Front” win an election in the last 25 years, the fact that between 1957 and 1993 small parties and independent leaders played important roles in formation of the state government is something which Beniwal and Tiwari have not forgotten.

Beniwal is himself contesting the Khinvsar constituency in Nagaur and plans to field candidates in elections for all 200 seats, of which 62 remain to be declared.

Jat votes play an important role in about 12 seats in Nagaur, Barmer, Jhunjhunu, Sikar and Churum. Other national parties typically prefer to field Jat candidates in these constituencies to garner more votes.

Predictably, both Congress and the BJP have ridiculed the Third Front.
“There is no chance of a ‘Third Front’; this is all show business”, Sachin Pilot, Congress state party president who is also competing in the election from Tonk told Asia Times.

“These are just big dreams of those who cannot do anything,” said BJP minister Rajendra Rathore.

But for all their bravado, both parties have to deal with some major problems, both internal and external.

While the BJP is fighting to counter the anti-incumbency wave in Rajasthan, the Congress party is facing a cold war between its two members, former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, and Sachin Pilot.

“People are not happy with both the BJP and Congress,” said Rakesh Verma, a political analyst and senior journalist. “So it is likely that neither will win a clear majority. In which case, the Third Front, along with other minor parties, have a good chance of grabbing a number of seats,” he said.