The writing was on the wall eight months ago. Annoyed with Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s failure to live up to a poll promise made in 2003 to look into the issue of including Gujjars in the Scheduled Tribe category, members of the community attacked a railway station and a police post. What did the cm do? Nothing. Last month, the Gujjars issued an ultimatum to her: resolve the issue or we will take action. What did she do? She trotted off to New York for 20 days to accept an award, leaving her administration paralysed. By the time she returned, things had spun out of control. The cm’s offer of this sop to the Gujjars was part of the BJP’s efforts to increase its vote share. It was AB Vajpayee’s initiative of reservations for the Jats that saw the BJP’s seats go up from less than 100 under former Cm BS Shekhawat to over 120 in the 2003 polls. Ms Raje is now caught in a cleft stick. The politically powerful Meena community is up in arms over any possibility of reservations for the Gujjars. The Meenas, who are STs, have cornered most of the employment benefits in the state while the Gujjars feel they have been kept out of the loop.
With the Meena ministers in her cabinet threatening to walk out, Ms Raje finds herself on shaky political ground. The BJP leadership is worried over the turn of events and this is the reason it has forced the cm to join talks with the Gujjar leaders to restore peace. With only a year left for elections, the party cannot afford to alienate the Gujjars or the Meenas, either of whose votes could swing the electoral balance. But, time is running out for the cm. Thirty people have died in the clashes. The violence has now spread to Haryana and Delhi. In apocalyptic scenes, vengeful mobs have held up trains, torched buses and blocked roads causing immense hardship to people.
This is not the first time that Ms Raje has faced a politically explosive situation. Earlier, when faced with a farmers’ agitation on the issue of lack of water, police fired on the protestors. At that time too, the BJP found itself in a tight spot. The party is concerned that the Cm does not appear up to the task of dealing with the agitation and its violent aftermath. This is why leaders like L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh have met PM Manmohan Singh who has appealed for calm. As things stand now, the violence has abated and the issue is likely to be resolved through talks. But Ms Raje will be left considerably weakened.