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Caste politics may spring a few surprises

Though various surveys have shown Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot ahead of his rival Vasundhara Raje, ground realities demonstrate that the contest could hold many surprises.

india Updated: Nov 30, 2003 18:15 IST

Though various surveys have shown Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot ahead of his rival Vasundhara Raje, ground realities demonstrate that the contest could hold many surprises.

In fact, the caste combinations, which are at work, seem to give an edge to the BJP nominees in several constituencies where the saffron party had negligible presence in the past.

The apparent shifting of Jat votes towards the BJP, which are a deciding factor in the state, could prove to be the Congress’s undoing. In a number of areas, the Rajputs and the Jats are on the same side for the first time. More than the Congress, Gehlot seems to be the factor that has united a number of castes against his government.

Though considered a political greenhorn, Vasundhara Raje has been able to make inroads into the Congress bastions. Today, her party appears to be in a position to end the Congress domination in the Marwar belt. The Congress is unlikely to repeat its past performance, when it captured 34 of the 42 seats here.

According to Chandraraj Singhvi, a close aide of Vasundhara Raje, clever selection of candidates keeping in view the winning caste permutations has neutralised the Congress advantage in the state. It is also for the first time that the BJP has made a concerted effort in 57 assembly seats, which traditionally went to the Congress in the past.

The opposition is not so much to the Congress or Sonia Gandhi as it is to Gehlot himself. The Jats hold him responsible for denying the chief ministership to Parasram Medrina. And while the Rajputs consider him anti-Rajput, other communities accuse him of favouring his own caste — Maalis — while making important appointments.

Vasundhara Raje's advantage is that she belongs to a royal family and is married to a Jat. Her son is married to a Gujjar and she has been careful not to antagonise the Rajputs.

In Jodhpur division, the three royal families — Jodhpur, Sirohi and Dungarpur — are all backing Vasundhara Raje. In many other areas too the erstwhile royals are behind her.

In addition, the RSS has reconciled to the idea of backing Vasundhara Raje and the BJP nominees. The VHP too is determined to settle scores with Gehlot for arresting Pravin Togadia.

The Congress is banking heavily on Devi Singh Bhati's Samajik Nyaya Manch to play the spoiler for the BJP. But the manch leader's own ambitions seem to be coming in the way.

The biggest problem for the Congress is that the government employees have decided to support the BJP. They are upset that while Gehlot has reduced the retirement age to 58, he has not been able to provide employment to their dependents and the other unemployed.

First Published: Nov 30, 2003 17:47 IST