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

The upcoming Rajasthan assembly elections in northwestern India might prove a difficult challenge for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which finds itself out of favor with Brahmins and Rajputs, upper-caste Hindu voter groups the hard-line nationalist party can usually depend upon. 

The electoral battleground is set for Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje to win over Rajputs and Brahmins after a string of unfulfilled promises and disagreeable actions during her tenure have left them disenchanted with her party.

Observers speculate that the December 7 elections for the 200-seat assembly might see both communities supporting parties other than the BJP.

Rajput leader Jaswant Singh’s son Manvendra Singh recently joined the opposition Congress party and disgruntled Brahmin leader Ghanshyam Tiwari quit the BJP. Tiwari has now organized a “Third front” by the name of Bharat Vahini in collaboration with Jat (Hindus from the peasant community) leader Hanuman Beniwal and his newly-launched Rashtriya Loktantrik Party.

Past records in Rajasthan show that the state frequently votes out the incumbent government. Apart from the dissatisfaction expressed by the two powerful communities, this “tradition” also gives Congress a chance to win the upcoming state assembly elections.

Brahmins “not given due respect”

In highly caste-ridden Rajasthan, Jats form the majority vote bank, followed by Rajputs and Brahmins. This means any party with a sway over two communities can look forward to taking more seats at the polls.

In the previous election, 27 Rajput MLA candidates emerged victorious, taking about 13% of seats, while 16 Brahmin MLAs won seats, or 8% of representation.

The state population currently includes around 6-8% Rajputs and 7-8% Brahmins.

The Brahmin community, considered an “upper caste” in India, has been asking for support for economically-backward Brahmin families in the state, which became an as-yet unfulfilled promise which made its way into the 2013 BJP election manifesto.

“They promised us an ‘upper caste’ reservation multiple times. But, instead of discussing this with us, BJP leaders kept saying that a certain commission has been formed and its report is yet to come out. Even government officials from the Brahmin community were not given deserving posts in the previous tenure and the community members were not given the due respect,” said Suresh Mishra, President of the Sarv Brahmin Mahasabha, an organization with about 500,000 members in the state.

In the last three years, several temples across the state were damaged during the carrying out of “smart-city” projects, infuriating and alienating the community further.

Around 100 temples were reportedly demolished in the state capital Jaipur to facilitate metro construction. Some of the structures demolished were claimed to be centuries old. This led to protests across the city by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the ideological parent of the BJP.

“About 200 temples in Jaipur have been (destroyed) during the past two tenures of BJP. Overall, at least 500 temples have been demolished in Rajasthan. This has led to a decrease in the income of several people from the community. Moreover, Brahmins do not have the management control over the temples still in place. We have about seven million Brahmins in Rajasthan and everyone has decided not to vote for BJP,” Mishra claimed.

President of the Sarv Brahmin Mahasabha, who has been vocal about his disdain for the saffron party, said the BJP-led government has not done anything significant to assure the Brahmin community that the party cares for them.

“During both the terms led by Raje, there have been several instances of lathi-charge (baton charges) on Brahmins. We have (also faced) unnecessary court cases and this has angered the Brahmin community,” Mishra said.

Several big names in BJP state unit like Ghanshyam Tiwari, Harishankar Bawda and Lalit Chaturvedi, all belonging to the Brahmin community, were allegedly sidelined.

“People from the community are inclined towards Congress (party) and not Tiwari since they do not see him winning the elections this time,” Mishra added.

No response to our issues, claim Rajputs

While the Brahmin coterie is dismayed over alleged inaction and lesser social affluence in the party, the Rajput community holds the BJP responsible for its lack of response to the Padmaavat film protests and to the death of Anandpal Singh, in addition to the various comments from within the BJP regarding its supposed lack of dependence upon Rajput votes.

One of the most wanted gangsters in the state, Anandpal Singh was celebrated among Rajputs for having created employment opportunities for their community. But in 2017, he was gunned down by three policemen in Rajasthan, thereby leading to massive agitation by the Rajput community, who claimed that he wanted to surrender but that police had faked the confrontation that let to Singh’s death.

“We believed that (the) BJP is our party, (and) we have built and supported it. But we did not receive the due support when it was required: be it the Padmaavat protests (Rajput community-led violent protests against the release of the movie Padmaavat) or the Anandpal case. We demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the Anandpal fake encounter and instead, the agency filed FIRs (First Information Reports) against nearly 12,000 Rajput youngsters. This has affected Rajput families and the message for the same will be seen during elections,” said Mahipal Singh Makrana, national president of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena.

Makrana went on to say that actions against Diya Kumari, a member of the erstwhile royal family, by the Jaipur Development Authority has also fuelled the fire against the ruling BJP government.

According to reports, Rajmahal Palace Hotel, owned by the former royal family, was sealed by Jaipur Development Authority during an anti-encroachment drive.

“The anger cannot be extinguished unless the leadership of the state is changed. We have made a core committee of 30 members which will compare the lists and manifestos of the parties. We will then check which party is ready to fulfill our demands and support accordingly,” said Makrana.

Chetan Singh Sankhla, Kota district head of the Akhil Bharatiya Kshatriya Mahasabha, stated that the BJP has time and again told Rajputs that it does not need their support. This has further reduced the community’s will to support the saffron party.

BJP denies vote bank politics

The BJP, however, does not believe that its traditional voter base has deserted the party.

“Our party does not consider any community or caste as a vote bank. We have supporters and contributors from all across the state which include Rajputs and Brahmins. We have worked for all castes and communities during the last five years. Nothing has been done for ‘saving the vote bank’,” said Mukesh Pareek, Rajasthan BJP spokesperson.

Political experts believe there is a specific reason why Brahmins and Rajputs hold an important position in Rajasthan. “The two communities are acceptable to the society in Rajasthan because for centuries Rajputs were ruling,” said Narayan Bareth, a political analyst and veteran scribe.

He also said that Brahmins enjoy a reputation of being flexible and accommodating.

“During the freedom struggle, Brahmins helped several Dalits (believed to be low-caste group among Hindus) and Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes to come out of un-touchability. They help in building a good atmosphere and are heard positively”, he added.