Anandpal encounter: A gangster’s killing in Rajasthan exposes the BJP’s faultlines
Since he was killed, Rajput bodies across the state have blocked roads and vandalised public property in demand for an inquiry into what they allege was a staged encounter.opinion Updated: Jul 15, 2017 19:34 IST
The BJP is staring at a potential crisis in Rajasthan, a state that sent 25 party MPs to the Lok Sabha in 2014. Vasundhara Raje government, which once set the agenda of political discourse with her bold labour reforms, financial inclusion schemes, cashless healthcare services and subsidized kitchens for the poor, seems to be under siege.
Just when she was deploying her troops, the MLAs and the ministers, to counter the opposition Congress’ onslaught on the issue of agrarian crisis leading to suicide by farmers—and her failure to announce a farm loan waiver, as done by her counterparts in some other BJP-ruled states-- yet another police encounter has come to haunt her. Rajputs, loyal supporters of the ruling BJP, are on a warpath over the killing of a dreaded criminal of their community, Anandpal Singh, in a police encounter last month.
It’s not a first in Rajasthan that has often seen criminals becoming the symbols of their community pride. Rajputs had gone on a rampage after the killing of Chatur Singh, an alleged criminal, in police firing in Jaisalmer last year. In 2006, during Raje’s first term as CM, Jats were similarly agitated over the killing of Dara Singh, a Jat criminal, in a police encounter.
The latest upsurge of Rajputs against the BJP government threatens to unsettle Raje’s carefully crafted caste balance. In a state known for caste conflicts—Rajputs-versus-Jats-versus-Gujjars-versus-Meenas-- she represents a unique blend: born in a Rajput family (erstwhile royal family of Gwalior) and married to a Jat (from the erstwhile royal family of Dholpur), with a Gujjar daughter-in-law. Jats and Rajputs, who together constitute about one-fourth of Rajasthan’s electorate, played a big role in the BJP’s success in 2003 and 2013 assembly elections. Anandpal’s encounter threatens to bring the latent tension and rivalry between the two communities to the fore. Rajputs suspect that some Jat police officials deliberately shot down Anandpal who crossed swords with Jat criminals as also politicians.
Rajput politicians, including one related to former vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, have swung into action to muddy the waters for Raje. And so have her detractors in the Sangh Parivar. State home minister Gulab Chand Katari, a hardline RSS leader whose first stint in this capacity was marked by the withdrawal of police cases against Sangh activists, said he was sleeping when the chief minister called him to inform about the police encounter, virtually putting the onus on her.
While it said a lot about the home minister, it also underscored the uneasy equations between the CM and the RSS-backed ministers. Facing flak for incidents of atrocities against Muslims, including the lynching of Pahlu Khan by cow vigilantes in Alwar, her government has been at pains to enlist the actions against perpetrators. But such explanations find few takers as ministers such as primary and secondary education, Vasudev Devnani, continue showing off their contributions to Hindutva by correcting what he calls “distorted history” in school textbooks.
As state Congress president Sachin Pilot embarks on a 93 km pada yatra from the CM’s pocketborough, Jhalawar, in the third week of July, Raje government will come under intense pressure on the issue of farm loan waiver. The Centre’s decision to scrap PDS sugar subsidy has given more ammunition to the opposition. The dice are loaded against the BJP, about 16 months before Rajasthan goes to polls.