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Caste overshadows all else in poll-bound Rajasthan

Sunita Aron, Hindustan Times  Jaipur, November 14, 2013
First Published: 22:55 IST(14/11/2013) | Last Updated: 02:13 IST(15/11/2013)

In July 2013, when the Allahabad High Court banned caste-based rallies, Mayawati retaliated saying, “Caste rallies will continue till the caste system doesn’t change”.

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The BSP chief was stating a fact. Poll bite

In poll season, arch rivals, the Congress and BJP, are united in their diversity. The candidate lists of both the parties for Rajasthan — neatly divided on caste lines — read similar.

If the BJP has fielded 12 Brahmins, 32 Jats, 27 Rajputs and 9 Gurjars , the Congress has given ticket to 16 Brahmins, 36 Jats, 14 Rajputs and 12 Gurjars. Only when it comes to Muslims, the Congress is far ahead with 16. The saffron party has not gone beyond 3.

According to a study by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), both the BJP and Congress made inroads into each other’s traditional vote banks, barring Muslims, in 2008 elections.

No wonder then, leaders of both the national parties are pandering to caste whims and the state is heading for some interesting contests. In about 60-odd constituencies the two main parties will be fiercely cutting into each other’s votes as they have fielded same caste candidates. 

This is likely to change the behaviour of other caste voters in constituencies such as Bassi, a seat reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST). In 2008, Bassi voters, in their endeavour to defeat the Meena community leaders fielded by both the Congress and BJP, ganged up in favour of an Independent candidate Anju Devi, of Dhanka caste.

Similar voting behaviour might occur this time too, with weaker castes uniting against militant ones.

Overbearing caste panchayats that dictate social and political spheres here are the other determinant.

The ‘poll bazaar’ in Rajasthan has been abuzz with ‘the state having a tradition of voting for change and candidates’. What political parties, however, remain discreet about is the other ‘C-factor’ — caste — which pushes merit, age and professional competency to a distant second or third position. 

The Congress again relied on the time-tested caste formula in a big way. And, now while managing the rebels it faces pressures from dominant castes in areas where they can make or mar the fortunes of the official nominees.

There are reasons.

The Jats stand vertically split between the two parties, with 36% voting for the Congress and 35% for the BJP, in 2008. This explains why the Congress has gone back to the Jats, giving them 36 seats despite their threat to dump the party if they did not get quota in central services. Under pressure from Union minister Ajit Singh, the central government has set up a Group of Ministers to look into their demand, but the Congress can’t be sure of their support.

Their other grudge: The state has never had a Jat chief minister even though the community plays a decisive role in 60 of the 200 assembly constituencies.

The Congress lacks an acceptable Jat face whereas the BJP has Vasundhara Raje with whom the community relates to. The BJP has fielded 31 Jats, though Rajputs remain its mainstay.

Similarly, ST votes stayed with the Congress for decades, but have started drifting towards the BJP. The Congress continues to have a major hold on the SC vote though the BSP is increasingly threatening to woo them away.

By the time the 2013 elections will be over, the caste dynamics might change. But caste will continue to determine and dominate politics.

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