A routine assurance by Vasundhara Raje to the Gujjar community ahead of state elections in Rajasthan three years ago has exploded in the face of her government.
Raje, who lead the BJP to victory in the 2003 polls, had told Gujjar leaders in two meetings in their areas that she would "look into" their demand for Scheduled Tribe status for their community.
Interestingly, the issue did not figure in the BJP manifesto or campaign. But the Gujjars did not forget her assurance. And they felt overwhelmed by the Jats, who have dominated the OBC category ever since the AB Vajpayee gave them that status, and upset by the Meenas, who milked their ST status to move up the social ladder as police officers and sarkari babus.
The reality, say BJP leaders, is that the granting of ST status is not an easy affair. "Can the Gujjars qualify as a tribe? The state may recommend their case but Parliament has to pass a law. Even if it does, the President has to proclaim in consultation with the state governor," a party leader and former law minister said.
Other BJP leaders admit that things would not have come to such an impasse if the chief minister had smoothened ruffled feathers right after Gujjar leaders threatened to jam highways a month ago. She stayed away from Jaipur for 20 days, choosing instead to be in New York to accept the United Nation’s ‘Woman Together Award 2007’.
Raje's defence is that one of the groups, the Gujjar Mahasabha, had postponed its agitation till July 31 after a cabinet sub-committee was formed in September to examine the quota issue and the inclusion of Gujjars in the ST category.
But a central BJP leader says Raje got the first warning signs as early as eight months ago and lost the trust of Gujjar leaders, who accused her of not caring for them and thinking a militant agitation was the only answer.
“Now, it is a Catch-22 situation. If the government recommends the Gujjars’ case, it will fall foul of the Meenas; and if it does not, the Gujjar protests will further escalate,” said another BJP leader, who did not want to be named.
Consequently, central BJP leaders on Friday sought to win back the community's trust. Party chief Rajnath Singh met the leaders of the All India Gujjar Mahasabha and Gujjar Vikas Parishad and asked them to trust the Raje government. He asked them to lower tensions and avoid a caste conflagration as the Meenas and Jats were also restive.
BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said Rajnath had asked the Gujjar leaders to ensure that social harmony was not torn beyond repair as the state government was trying to find a solution.
The party has also shifted the venue of its next national executive meeting from Jaipur to Delhi. It will be held on June 15 and 16.