Jain votes crucial in MP

Jains, who could prove to be crucial, wield a clout in the State politics that is often termed disproportionate to their strength, writes Shams Ur Rehman Alavi.

india Updated: Nov 27, 2003 11:44 IST

Sustained efforts by the Digvijay Singh government to woo the numerically small yet politically influential and prosperous Jain community in the State might tilt the balance in favour of the Congress, particularly, in Malwa and Bundelkhand, feel political observers.

And Jains do seem to hold the key, after all, no less than three past Chief Ministers of the State viz. PC Sethi, Virendra Kumar Sakhlecha and Sundarlal Patwa have come from the community. Also, Takht Mal Jain was the first chief minister of erstwhile Central Provinces (CP). Besides, several MPs and MLAs belonging to the community have been regularly elected from the State in elections.

In fact, Jains wield a clout in the State politics that is often termed disproportionate to their strength. Conferring the status of religious minority on the Jains was a part of the State government's strategy to rope in the support of the community that is considered close to the BJP.

The community numbers over 5 lakh in the State but is concentrated mostly in Malwa and Bundelkhand. Also, it is believed that the Jain population in the State is quite high and underestimated because a large chunk of the rural population of Jains get themselves registered under the caste Hindus.

"The Jain vote could play a vital role in Malwa and Mahakoshal where most of the population is concentrated", says Arun Jain, the member of MP State Minorities' Commission. "Besides, the Jains are located in large numbers in Sagar, Jabalpur, Satna, Tikamgarh and Khandwa districts". "Earlier, Jains had fairly good representation in the State politics but the number has been declining for the last few election", says Jain, who is an industrialists and the secretary of the Mahakoshal Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

"The Jain community is known for politics of principles and does not vote under the diktat of any community leader", he adds. Regarding the effectiveness of Jain vote, he feels that there could be a difference in constituencies in the regions where Jains are numerically strong particularly Sagar division of Bundelkhand and Malwa.

Within the Jain community, there are divergent opinions regarding the sops offered by the Digvijay government. "Minority status is a welcome step", says Vipin Jain, software professional, who does not believe that Jains are traditionally BJP-supporters. "Several members of the community are fielded by Congress and the party enjoys our full faith", he adds.

Sanjay Jain 'Bantu', a spokesperson of the community feels that Jain community is now more inclined towards Congress than in the past. "More than 65 per cent people are happy with the status of minority and our educational institutes are getting government aid", he says. "No doubt some people are sour but mostly it has sent a positive message", adds Sanjay Jain. "There were two Jain ministers-Subhash Sojatia and Narendra Nahata in Digvijay cabinet while about half-a-dozen MLAs including Jayant Malaiya and Sudha Jain were members in the outgoing Assembly", he further said.

"The number of Jains is much higher than the census figures suggest because in rural areas most of the Jains register themselves as Baniya", says Amit Jain Taraiya, City-based engineer and prominent businessman. "The number of Jain MLAs in the Assembly has always been higher than all the minority members put together", he further adds.

Taraiya says that the community is unhappy with Congress for merely giving minority status as no schemes have been initiated to benefit them. "The Jains have traditionally voted for the BJP and very slight chunk might vote for Congress ", he adds.

First Published: Nov 27, 2003 11:44 IST