Infamous for cow vigilantism-related violence since 2014, the Alwar-Bharatpur region in the western Indian state of Rajasthan voted out the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from most of the constituencies that fall under the two major districts.
Of the 11 Assembly seats in Alwar, the BJP won only two. The party’s performance was worse in Bharatpur district, where it lost all the seven seats. This was in contrast with the previous elections, when the BJP won 11 seats in Alwar and six in Bharatpur.
In Alwar district, which has about 600,000 Scheduled Caste (SC) voters, close to 200,000 Scheduled Tribe (ST) voters and about 350,000 Muslim voters, the caste-religion factor was a crucial one.
Multiple reasons alienated Dalit, or ethnic, and Muslim voters, leading to the BJP’s decimation in these two districts.
Post the April 2 Bharat Bandh, or protest, when Dalits and other minority groups protested a Supreme Court ruling on SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, hundreds of Dalits and Muslims in the Alwar and Bharatpur regions were arrested and cases of arson and rioting were filed against them.
In most cases, the youth failed to get bail and languished behind bars for months.
The dismal performance could also be attributed to other factors like the distribution of tickets and the presence of rebel candidates. After facing a huge loss during the by-elections earlier this year, the BJP shied away from giving tickets to many sitting and former MLAs.
Former BJP leader from Alwar Gyan Dev Ahuja and sitting MLA Banwari Lal Singhal, who had made many anti-Muslim and pro-Hindutva comments during their last term, were among the leaders who were denied tickets by the BJP in an effort to show that the party did not support hate speech and communal flare-ups.
The presence of new faces also caused a disconnect between the new candidates and the Dalits and Meo Muslims, a Muslim Rajput community. While the BJP struggled to build a bridge, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) cashed in on the disenchantment and its hold in these two districts landed the party four of the 18 seats.
The BSP focused on SC, Jat, a traditionally agricultural community, and Gujjar, a pastoral agricultural ethnic group, voters in Kishangarh Bas while concentrating on Yadav, a traditionally non-elite, peasant-pastoral caste, and SC vote banks in Tijara.
Similarly, in Bharatpur, the attention was on SC and Meo Muslims and on SC and Gujjars in Nadbai.
In an attempt to draw in more voters, the BJP also asked Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Jay Singh Bisht, popularly known as Yogi Adityanath, to campaign in these regions.
The firebrand Hindutva leader conducted five rallies in Alwar and Bharatpur districts, covering constituencies Alwar Rural, Ramgarh, Thanagazi, Tijara, and conducted one rally in Bharatpur.
Bisht also tried to woo Dalit voters by branding the Hindu deity Hanuman as a Dalit. These measures, however, failed to translate into winning votes for the BJP.
“Party is now analyzing the reasons for the big loss. The BJP doesn’t believe in caste-based politics. We had asked for votes from people belonging to all castes and religions. The party accepts the decision of the public,” Sanjay Naruka, BJP’s Alwar District head, said.
Talking about cow smugglers and those involved in mob lynching, he added that people involved in wrongdoings would be punished by law. “The BJP had changed the Supreme Court decision to protect the benefits extended towards Dalits. We will try to assess why some people are upset with the party. The party will win with a big margin in Lok Sabha elections (general elections),” he said.
Worse to come
Two Lower House seats, Ajmer and Alwar, and the Maldalgarh Assembly seat had by-elections early this year. The BJP lost all three of these elections to Congress.
In Alwar, Congress’s Karan Singh Yadav defeated the BJP’s Jaswant Singh Yadav by 156,319 votes. The total number of voters in the constituency was 1,628,067. It was a crushing and decisive verdict which Congress hopes to repeat next year, aided by the polarising situation on the ground.
According to Alwar district police records, about 664 cases of cow smuggling were registered in the last four years under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter & Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995.
Apart from this, police took action against 803 alleged cow smugglers and recovered more than 2,500 alleged smuggled cows in three years.
In Bharatpur district, 243 cases of cow smuggling were registered in the last four years and 196 cow smugglers were arrested.
The presence of dairy farmers in Alwar and Bharatpur, which are close to Haryana, has led to suspicions of rampant cow smuggling. The action of the self-styled gau rakshaks, or cow vigilantes, and the inaction of the authorities made national headlines after Mewat dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was lynched by a group of cow vigilantes in 2017.
This was followed by a similar incident earlier this year when Rakbar Khan was lynched by an angry mob after he was suspected of being a cow smuggler.
Working president of the Alwar Congress committee Yogesh Sharma said: “Communal harmony was under threat during the BJP rule and related crimes were on the rise. The public anger against their polarising policies has led to their defeat. Their loss in the Lok Sabha polls (general elections) will be worse.”