Castes draw election battle lines deeper in Rajasthan than anywhere else. Hence, a politician increases his chances of a win significantly if he manages to win caste support to his side.
Election tickets are often distributed in accordance with the spread of caste population in a region and caste as an important factor determining the outcome of poll results has largely remained static since the Emergency.This is perhaps why the Jats, the scheduled castes and tribes and a section of Brahmins have traditionally supported the Congress, while the Rajputs backed the Swatantra Party, which had public representatives belonging to former royal families. Names include those of Princes Prithvi Singh, Jai Singh and Maharani Gayatridevi from Jaipur and Maharaja Hanut Singh from Jodhpur. The leaders of the Swatantra Party, which was started by C Rajgopalachari, India’s last Governor-general, were popular among the masses and the OBCs voted for them in hordes.
The Bania community has been the mainstay of the BJP vote bank ever since Bhairon Singh Shekhawat took the reins of the Jan Sangh in the state in 1977, forming the first non-Congress government after the Emergency.
Shekhawat focused on the OBC communities such as the Nai, Kumawat and Gurjar and gave them representation, while encouraging other leaders from downtrodden communities and strengthening the BJP in the process.
His legacy has helped the BJP, though the Malis, one the state’s other backward classes, have moved towards the Congress because of the leadership of CM Ashok Gehlot.
The Congress can count among its loyalists the Jats, the Jatavs in eastern districts such as Karauli and Bharatpur, as well as Muslims, Dalits and tribals.
Jats dominate around 60 assembly seats directly. Eighty four assembly seats have a large numbers of Jat voters. Rajputs are equally influential in major pockets of Sriganganagar, Bikaner, Jhunjhunu and Sikar; Jodhpur, Barmer & Jaisalmer in the west; as well as Chittorgarh in the south.
Post the Emergency, some caste churning happened during the Ram temple movement, when a large chunk of Brahmins moved out of the Congress fold. Even then, however, stalwarts such as Naval Kishore Sharma anchored the party among the Brahmins.
And when the Congress rewarded senior Brahmin leaders Girija Vyas and CP Joshi with plum posts, support among that community grew. In contrast, the BJP sidelined Brahmin heavyweights Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi and Harishankar Bhabhra. Currently, Ghanshyam Tiwari is the only visible Brahmin face in the BJP.
With the BJP declaring Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the Lok Sabha polls, the Brahmin vote might again get divided in the upcoming assembly elections.
Rajput: They are not united under a single banner. The Congress has been wooing them actively — 4 of their MPs are from the community.
Jat: Spread in 12 districts, they influence 60 assembly seats directly. Though traditional voters of the Congress, they are being aggressively wooed by Vasundhara Raje. Jats begrudge Ashok Gehlot as they want a community member to become CM if Congress comes to power.
Gurjar: Traditional voters for the BJP, the community is now rallying behind Kirori Singh Bainsala, who is fighting for ST status for Gurjars. Sachin Pilot is the Gurjar face of the Congress, but his influence in assembly elections is doubtful.
Meena: Kirori Lal Meena, independent Lok Sabha member from Dausa, is the biggest influence on community votes
Muslim: The Gopalgarh riots have turned many against the Congress, but with Modi being projected as the BJP’s PM candidate, Muslims are unlikely to come into the fold of the Rajasthan BJP led by Vasundhara Raje.