Political Pulse: Rajput factor back in spotlight in Rajasthan politics

The inaugural light-and-sound show at Chittorgarh Fort, opened virtually by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot Monday evening, was forced to stop midway after local BJP MP CP Joshi and some members of the Rajput community objected to a section in its script involving the 13th century Delhi sultan Alauddin Khilji and Mewar queen Rani Padmini.

The show could resume on Tuesday after the Chittorgarh district administration removed the disputed portion of the script. The BJP leaders were quick to target the Gehlot-led Congress government in the matter.

The Rajasthan Assembly elections may be two years away, but the row arising out of objections from a section of the Rajput community and the Opposition leaders’ bid to train their guns on the ruling party has put the spotlight back on the Rajput factor and its salience in state politics.
Going after the Gehlot dispensation, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, a Rajput leader, charged that the Congress government was not concerned about the “asmita” (pride) of Rajasthan.

Shekhawat is known to have a strained equation with the state’s top BJP leader and former CM Vasundhara Raje and is considered to be positioning himself as one of the principal challengers to her supremacy in the Rajasthan BJP.

In his statement, Shekhawat claimed that the controversy surrounding the light-and-sound show was “not a simple matter”. He alleged that the show’s contentious depiction of Alauddin Khilji and Padmini was done as part of “appeasement” politics, and that “second class treatment is being meted out to Hindus ever since the Congress came to power in the state”.

Other BJP leaders, including Deputy Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly Rajendra Rathore, also hit out at the Congress over the Chittorgarh show.

The Rajput leaders claim that their community constitutes 11-12 per cent of Rajasthan’s population, spread throughout the state, with sizeable presence in many constituencies. Rajputs have been traditional vote base of the BJP in the state.

However, the political equations had changed ahead of the December 2018 elections to the 200-member Rajasthan Assembly, when several things had turned the Rajput community against the then Vasundhara-led BJP government. Those developments included the killing of gangster Anandpal Singh in police encounter in June 2017, the registration of cases against Rajput leaders after their protests against Anandpal’s encounter killing had turned violent in Nagaur district, and the sidelining of veteran leader late Jaswant Singh in the BJP politics.

Ahead of the 2018 polls — in which the saffron party lost — a leading body of Rajputs in Rajasthan, Rajput Sabha, had even undertaken a campaign called “Kamal ka phool, hamaari bhool” (Backing the BJP was our mistake).

The significance of the Rajput factor in Rajasthan politics could be gauged from the presence of leaders from across the political spectrum at the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Shree Kshatriya Yuvak Sangh, a social organisation of Rajputs, that was held at Jaipur earlier this month.

A slew of leaders and legislators cutting across party lines participated in this event. The Rajput leaders who addressed the function included Union Minister Shekhawat, Rajendra Rathore, Rajasthan Minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas and Congress leader Dharmendra Rathore.

Dharmendra Rathore, who is known to be close to CM Gehlot and acts as his point man for outreach to the Rajput community, sought to highlight there that it was the Gehlot government which implemented the 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker section (EWS) among the upper castes in the state.
Congress leader and minister Khachariyawas, nephew of BJP stalwart late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, also spoke on the issue, seeking relaxations from the BJP-led central government on the EWS quota issue.

While the organisers maintained it was a non-political event, the presence of many leaders from both the Congress and the BJP underlined the community’s political heft.

“Rajputs form 11-12 per cent of the population and the presence of leaders from all parties in the event showed that they are aware of the fact that without the support of the community they can’t win. The previous BJP government was voted out because of our movement against the then state government over issues such as the Anandpal Singh encounter. The opposition to the movie “Padmaavat” (based on the story of Alauddin Khilji and Padmini) was one such instance when the entire community stood united and displayed our strength,” said Shree Rajput Karni Sena patron Lokendra Singh Kalvi.

He asserted that the Rajput outfits such as the Karni Sena will raise issues concerning the community in the run-up to the 2023 Rajasthan Assembly elections.

“No political party can afford to ignore Rajputs. The Rajput community not voting for the BJP was one of the reasons behind the Congress winning the 2018 elections with a margin of more than 25 seats. It is this substantial difference of seats between the two parties, which is preventing the government from being toppled,” Kalvi added.

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