In Raje visit to Sikar, reflection of BJP focus on Jat-dominated Shekhawati belt
The Shekhawati belt of western Rajasthan – comprising Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu districts – was a Congress citadel before the BJP managed to make inroads in the last assembly elections in December 2013jaipur Updated: Apr 06, 2018 22:28 IST
As chief minister Vasundhara Raje reached Sikar on Friday on a four-day visit, the ‘short trip’ comes as a reflection of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s renewed focus on the politically significant Shekhawati region months before Rajasthan goes to polls.
The Shekhawati belt of western Rajasthan – comprising Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu districts – was a Congress citadel before the BJP managed to make inroads in the last assembly elections in December 2013. Out of eight Assembly constituencies in Sikar, BJP won five, while in Jhunjunu, the party had grabbed three out of seven seats. It, however, lost Surajgarh constituency to Congress in 2014 bypoll.
In December last year, Raje chose to celebrate the fourth anniversary of her government in Jhunjhunu where she announced developmental projects to the tune of Rs 2,237 crore. In March this year, Jhunjhunu was selected as the venue for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to launch the National Nutrition Mission 2022 and expansion of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign.
Sources say that BJP fears losing its grip on the Shekhawati region that is dominated by Jat peasants. It is something the ruling party can ill afford to as the three districts account for 21 seats – roughly 10% of the total strength of Rajasthan assembly.
“The reasons for worry are two-fold. Sikar witnessed a major farmers’ agitation. The rural distress if not addressed could make a dent in the party’s votebank. Then, some tall Jat leaders of the party have either died or joined the Congress,” said a BJP leader requesting anonymity.
By giving importance to Sikar, Raje is trying to send a message that she cares for the region. During her visit to different constituencies in the district, Raje will be holding Jan Samvad (public dialogue) and is also expected to launch some schemes for the rural community.
In 2014 general elections, BJP had given tickets to seven Jat candidates or a fourth of the total 25 contestants for as many Lok Sabha seats.
“Until 2013, the BJP was known as the party of Brahmins, Banias and Rajputs. However, a conscious effort was made to widen the support base by wooing the Jat community, which is electorally the most significant community of western Rajasthan. The party wants to keep the Jat votes intact,” the BJP leader said.
Political analysts are not impressed with chief minister’s attempt at wooing Jats.
“This effort by Vasundhara Raje to create a caste affinity and try and break the unity among the peasants will be a political failure. The peasants have understood that they have to look beyond caste and that their economic interests have been hurt due to the government’s faulty policies. The BJP has understood that in entire Shekhwati region, or for that matter in Rajasthan, the people’s support is eroding,” political analyst Rajiv Gupta said.
The Shekhawati districts, the gateway to the Thar desert, are known for their havelis and for former and serving armed forces personnel. The CPI-M also has a strong presence in some pockets and it was the Left constituent-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) that had launched the massive agitation last September forcing the government to announce a partial loan waiver for the farmers.
Party leaders who had analysed the BJP’s loss in the bypolls to two Lok Sabha and one Assembly seats in January had mainly blamed unfavourable caste equations and rural distress for the result.