As Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje battles what is being perceived as an intense anti-incumbency factor to retain power, soured ties between her and an influential Rajput community seem to be an unresolved obstacle for the ruling BJP.
Relationship between Rajputs, a traditional support base of the BJP since Jana Sangh days, and the Raje-led government has been on a downslide since 2016 and the recent move of Manvendra Singh, MLA and son of former Union Minister and Rajput leader Jaswant Singh, to join the Congress has worsened it, BJP leaders admitted.
Party leaders pointed out a series of events, including the Rajmahal land row, the Padmaavat controversy, the encounter of gangster Anandpal Singh and Raje’s opposition to the BJP central leadership’s choice of Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as state unit chief have left a deep dent on the party’s acceptability within the community. “The damage is irreparable, at least before the polls,” said a BJP leader from Rajasthan.
Polling to the 200 Assembly seats is to take place on December 7. Rajputs account for about 12 per cent of the state’s population and wield influence in at least two dozen Assembly seats. “They have been traditional supporters of the BJP. The contribution of Rajput leader and former Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who was a three-term CM, was crucial for the BJP’s electoral successes,” the leader said.
The current government has three cabinet ministers and a junior minister from the Rajput community.
The community’s distancing from the government started when Padmini Devi of the erstwhile royal family of Jaipur took out a public protest against sealing of the main entrance of Rajmahal Palace during an anti-encroachment drive. Padmini Devi is the mother of BJP MLA Diya Kumari, who had joined the party ahead of the last Assembly polls. Many in the Rajput community did not appreciate the way government officials locked the entrance to the palace and did not forgive Raje for the “humiliation” the family faced.
The simmering anger turned into rage when Anandpal Singh, a gangster from the Ravana Rajput community, was killed in an encounter. Despite the fact that Ravana Rajputs are considered by Rajputs as belonging to an inferior caste, the killing triggered protests, with Rajput bodies demanding a CBI probe. When the government agreed to a CBI probe, it sent about 115 cases against him to the agency. The already-soured ties between the community and the government slipped further down.
Then came the protests over film Padmaavat. The community aggressively opposed the film and was upset that the government allowed it to be shot. The ban on the film at the time of release did not satisfy them.
The Rajputs were also angry at Raje’s opposition to Gajendra Shekhawat as state party chief. The BJP central leadership had chosen Shekhawat primarily to placate the Rajputs, but Raje was adamant and Rajya Sabha MP Madanlal Saini, an OBC leader, got the post.
The latest development in this regard was Manvendra Singh joining the Congress. Political observers say Jaswant Singh is still respected and regarded as a top leader of the community and Manvendra’s move would appeal to the Rajputs upset with the “ill-treatment” of Jaswant Singh.
The Singh family’s ties with Raje and BJP worsened after the party denied ticket to Jaswant from Barmer in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Manvendra was suspended from the party for campaigning for his father in that election in which Jaswant contested against BJP’s official candidate. However, Manvendra continued to represent Sheo as an MLA.