The caste unrest in Rajasthan, arising out of assurances made to the Gujjar community by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on the eve of the last assembly polls, is going to have wide-ranging ramifications for the BJP not only in the state but also in the rest of the country. It is unprecedented that the entire community has got together and launched an agitation against a government which, instead of smoothening ruffled feathers, has proved to be totally ill-equipped to deal with the situation. The result is that the Meenas, who enjoy scheduled tribe (ST) status, are also up in arms and have threatened a major counter-agitation if the government encourages the Gujjars’ demand for inclusion in the category of STs.
While the top BJP leadership, clueless about dealing with the situation, is now trying to involve the centre in the crisis-management mechanism, the continuation of Raje may be in serious doubt. The CM’s own partymen are accusing her of ignoring political issues and concentrating on everything else. It is being alleged that when the first indications of the unrest were seen, the CM chose to travel to New York to receive an award. Her party colleagues, who earlier criticised her only in private, now feel that it is time for her to go if the BJP is to be saved in the state. Realising the strong anti-CM sentiment, the top BJP leadership has decided to shift the venue of its National Executive meeting to be held in Jaipur in mid-June to Delhi. It is very obvious that concerned over the developments that are threatening to weaken the party in the state, the top leadership wants to distance itself for the time being from those who are in command of the party in the state and get into negotiations to salvage the situation.
It is evident that top BJP leaders are also conscious that in the past three-and-a-half years, the state government has been concentrating on issues that have attracted criticism — from financial irregularities to partiality. The political aspects have been ignored and it is said that the CM spends more time out of the state than in it. Whether this is right or wrong is for the supporters of the CM to answer, but this perception is not good for Raje’s image. The general feeling is that the current unrest could have been handled better. But most of the CM’s advisors are ill-equipped to deal with the situation and have put her in a position from where it will take the best efforts of her supporters in the central BJP to bail her out. The general view is that an assurance should not have been given to the Gujjars in the first place. But when an administrative and political solution was not in sight, the state government should have used some method to transfer the issue to a judicial body.
The matter would have taken a number of years to resolve, like in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi controversy, and by that time tempers would have cooled. Or, when the Gujjars raised the demand, some other communities should have been asked to raise similar demands and the matter could have been referred to a commission. But political measures can only be thought of by political persons and not by the kind who surround the CM at present. Her last political aide was Chander Raj Singhvi who had helped the BJP in 2003 to win seats in the Jat belt where it had never won even after being led by a stalwart like BS. Shekhawat. Singhvi, who parted ways with the CM, has since joined hands with Uma Bharti.
The crisis has also simultaneously led to a power struggle within the Rajasthan BJP where Raje’s opponents see an opportunity to replace her. Industries Minister Narpat Singh Rajvi, who is Shekhawat’s son-in-law, is fast emerging as an alternative to the present CM. He is considered both astute and a good administrator. Others who could be in the shortlist include Gulab Chand Kataria, Ghanshyam Tewari, and Kailash Meghwal though many BJP insiders say that at one time, Jaswant Singh had also nursed secret ambitions of being the state CM. But all this will happen if and when Raje goes and the BJP leadership steps in to save the situation with another leader.
But it is not strange that a BJP government is under threat because of the poor handling of an incident. Ever since the Jan Sangh days, only three BJP leaders have completed a full five-year term: Vijay Kumar Malhotra as the Delhi chief executive councillor, and Shekhawat and PK Dhumal in Rajasthan and Himachal respectively. If Narendra Modi (against whom there is a massive uprising in the Gujarat BJP) — who became the longest serving CM of Gujarat on June 1 — lasts till December, he would be the fourth one to complete a full term. Even AB Vajpayee as the PM could not complete his full term as he went in for a mid-term poll, though he served as the PM for over six years spread over two terms.
For the BJP, the issue has become a cause of worry since its showing in the UP elections was dismal and overshadowed its victories in Punjab and Uttarakhand. The results of Goa and the municipal polls in Punjab will further help the party to assess its position. There is an acute power struggle within the Sangh parivar and the RSS is trying to resolve certain internal issues. Some meetings of the top BJP leaders with RSS functionaries have already been held and the Sangh general secretary, Mohan Bhagwat, has held parleys with Madan Das Devi to understand whether the role played in the BJP’s affairs by the L.K. Advani-led coterie was helping or weakening the party.
The Gujjar unrest that is spreading to other states could spell the beginning of the end for the BJP in some of the northern states if not handled properly. The caste war is in any case against the basic belief of the RSS, which wants the Hindus to be a united force and not influenced by caste conflagrations. The coming days will show whether Raje is able to survive the greatest challenge to her political abilities. Rajasthan, it seems, is slipping out of the BJP’s hands. Between us.