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Rajasthan’s Ajmer (North) constituency – which includes the Muslim-dominated localities around the famed Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti – has voted for the BJP in the last two assembly elections. But the saffron party’s Vasudev Devnani is finding the going tough time.
In the adjoining Hindu township of Pushkar —where the country’s only Brahma temple is located — the late Ramzan Khan of the BJP had been elected thrice and Naseem Akhar of the Congress is the sitting MLA and also the candidate. But Akhtar is said to be fighting a losing battle this time.
These trends point to a change taking place in Rajasthan’s political culture of communal harmony. And the signs are evident:
The late Nawal Kishore Sharma had won the Muslim-dominated Jaipur (Rural) – now Hawa Mahal – constituency with huge margins. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, his son Brij Kishore struggled to win with a razor-thin majority of less than 500 votes. In the past 15 years, caste-based groups have mushroomed like rashes – from the Jat Sabha to the Khandelwal, Kacchwa or Rajput Sabhas.
Rajasthan has a unique history of communal harmony. While the rest of India was being torn asunder by communal riots in 1947, the erstwhile Maharaja of Jaipur, Man Singh-II, accompanied by his Prime Minister, Mirza Ismail, drove around the city in an open jeep, appealing to people to maintain peace.
In the post-Babri mosque demolition phase in 1992, Hindus and Muslims came out in a joint procession in the walled city to appeal for peace.
The procession was joined by the head priest of the famous Laxmi Narain temple, Puroshottam Bharti – whose son-in-law was killed earlier in a bomb blast. After the post-Godhra riots of 2002 in Gujarat, Rajasthan remained largely free of communal violence. Dress, food and cultural habits were largely similar between people of different communities living in one region.
“But that situation has rapidly changed. Politics and society are becoming increasingly polarised,” social activist Ashfaq Kayamkhani said.
“Politicians today strategise to ensure man-to-man marking. They operate around the tactic of securing votes of their own communities while trying to divide votes of the other communities. This is a marked departure from earlier political trends when parties would seek votes on the basis of ideology and the personal standing of candidates,” former state Wakf Board chairman Shaukat Ansari said.
In the process, the socio-political fabric of the desert state has undergone a change, as seen from the campaign speeches for the December 1 assembly polls. The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, Vasundhara Raje, has accused the Congress government of distributing poison in the name of providing free medicines to the poor. Chief minister Ashok Gehlot has raked up the issue of the theft of antique Iranian carpets from a government guest house during Raje’s tenure as chief minister – an OSD of the then CM is an accused in the case.
Raje and other “outsider politicians” including Buta Singh, Balram Jakhar and Sachin Pilot are blamed for introducing adverse influences – leading to the corporatisation of Rajasthan’s polity. But other forces have silently been working for a change for over a decade.
VHP leader Praveen Togadia started the Trishul Diksha (distribution of tridents) in Ajmer in 2006. In tribal-dominated south Rajasthan, several Bharat Mata temples and RSS-run schools called the Adarsh Vidya Mandir have sprung up. “And with the entry of BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi into the scene, the saffronisation drive is likely to intensify in the state,” veteran journalist Narain Bareth said.