Manhandling filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Jaipur may have been its most unpopular campaign yet, but this wasn’t the first time the Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS) made news in Rajasthan.
Named after Karni Mata, a goddess revered across Rajasthan but principally seated at the famous rat temple in Deshnoke near Bikaner, the group, last year, took to the streets in defence of the erstwhile royal family, which had protested the Jaipur Development Authority’s decision to seal the main gate of the 300-year-old Sujan Rajmahal Palace, now a heritage hotel owned by the family.
As its founder patron, Lokendra Singh Kalvi, 61, mobilised thousands of SRKS workers then. Subsequently, the palace gates were opened and JDA commissioner Shikhar Agarwal transferred. Ever since its constitution in 2006, the SRKS has held numerous protests across the state, notably against those who threatened the “pride” of the community, while extending support to the community members embroiled in court cases or confrontations.
The founding of the SRKS was, perhaps, the conclusion of decades of a few highs and mostly lows in politics for Kalvi, who failed to fill in the shoes of his father Kalyan Singh Kalvi, energy minister in Chandra Shekhar’s cabinet. Soon after Kalvi Sr passed away, Kalvi contested the 1993 parliamentary elections as an independent candidate from Nagaur, but he lost. He contested from Barmer on a BJP ticket in 1998, but lost again. But Kalvi did not lose hope and an opportunity presented itself in 1999 when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee awarded reservation under OBC category to Jats and other communities.
Kalvi left the BJP and opposed the move, seeking reservation for the poor among the forward castes, including Rajputs. Along with Devi Singh Bhati, also a former BJP leader, and others, he founded the Social Justice Front (SJF) in 1999. As the movement grew, they registered Rajasthan Samajik Nyaya Manch (RSNM) as a political party for the 2003 assembly elections and fielded 65 candidates. However, only Bhati won from Kolayat constituency and over the next few months, the party lost ground more quickly than it gained; Bhati and Kalvi then returned to the BJP fold.
Having ceded political ground once again, Kalvi “stayed away from it all.” But a fourth “opportunity” arising out of three murders in 2006 directly led to the constitution of SRKS.
In June 2006, Anandpal Singh — a Ravana Rajput and now Rajasthan’s most notorious gangster — and his aides shot dead Jivan Ram Godara and Harphool Ram Jat of a rival gang in Didwana town of Nagaur, allegedly over control of illicit liquor business.
As the Jats escalated their protests over the murders, leaders across party lines held a public meeting calling for a Jaipur siege against the murders. As the police went about detaining Rajput men, the community didn’t react much. “Meanwhile, there was another murder allegedly by one Bhupendra Singh, and police again rounded up several Rajput youths named Bhupendra,” says Narayan Singh Divrala, currently the Jaipur president of SRKS. Amidst all this, another Rajput leader of Nagaur, Shyam Pratap Singh, had been named as an accused in the double murders. The Rajputs now decided to act. “It was time to fight back. So I found SRKS on September 23, 2006,” he says.
The group’s 11 aims include opposing political and social malice against Rajputs, tweaking history; standing by any Rajput affiliated with any political party. In 2008, SRKS protested Ashutosh Gowariker’s film Jodhaa Akbar for “inaccurate portrayal of history”. They protested BJP MLA Rajendra Rathore’s arrest, threatened to sabotage Congress’ Chintan Shivir over reservations and in 2014, disrupted filmmaker Ekta Kapoor’s session at the Jaipur Literature Festival over her TV serial Jodha Akbar. Based out of Jaipur, the group’s membership is open to those below the age of 40 and it claims to have 7.64 lakh members across Rajasthan. The group, however, has failed to mobilise support politically. Perhaps, that explains why it has taken to other means to assert itself, says Rajeev Gupta, former head of department, social sciences, Rajasthan University.
“Rajputs have always been powerful in Rajasthan, but, of late, they want to reassert their political rule in absence of any ‘direct challenge’,” he says.