The story goes that the slogan, Modi tujh se bair nahin, Vasundhara teri khair nahin, was first raised in the politically restless Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. Here, in September 2017, a 13-day Left-backed agitation forced the government to take note of farmers’ distress and announce concessions in Sikar.
And in Jhunjhunu, in March, the first black flags were shown to the ruling BJP with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on stage, after which the administration started frowning on the colour black in public gatherings.
Some see the fingerprints of a section within the Sangh all over the slogan — it mirrors a bid to insulate the prospects of the Modi government in 2019, they say, from the likely fallout of incumbency in Rajasthan.
Whatever its origins, the slogan seems to have caught on, The Indian Express found as it travelled through the districts of Jaipur, Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Nagaur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.
At the very least, it captures the mixed nature of the impulse for “parivartan” or change in a polity where the incumbent BJP government looks unpopular but where the mobilisational advantage still lies with the BJP, and despite the apparent dents in his popularity, with PM Modi.
The winds are blowing against the Raje government in a state where the BJP seems to have cow-ed its main opponent (the Congress mimics the BJP on temple and cattle, remains silent on “Muslim” issues), coloured the so-called Third Force (its noisiest players are BJP breakaways) and mobilised and shifted rightwards large swathes of the electorate.
But first, the undeniable anti-incumbency. In rural Rajasthan, it is about persisting difficulties of getting clean drinking water. And farmer distress made up of the rising cost of inputs and difficulties in availing of the MSP.
“We are not even getting back the laagat (input costs)”, Dinesh Kumar Arya, among a group of farmers in Daulatpura village in Sikar, voices a commonly heard complaint. The MSP is set at Rs 1,950 per quintal for bajra but farmers say they are forced to sell at Rs 1,100-Rs 1,200. It’s a similar shortfall for groundnut, wheat and gram. Sarkari counters at mandis close too soon, the online process is daunting and there is a long wait for payments.
Meanwhile, because of government policy and vigilantes, “aawara pashu (stray cattle)” are a worsening problem, making “taarbandi (fencing)” necessary in the fields, driving up costs. Farmers talk of the last-minuteness of the loan waiver and the difficult stipulations for availing of the belated power subsidy.
Anti-incumbency is also made up of the after-shocks of demonetisation and pangs of transition to GST.
In Jodhpur, in a group of businessmen, the conversation is about additional paperwork, formalities, more red tape. “The GST has only strengthened lower level bureaucracy,” says Radhey Shyam Ranga, who exports handicrafts and furniture. And in Nagaur, “Mazdoor pe maar hai (the businessman comes down on the labourer). At a time when the cost of everything is rising, only our wages are going down,” says Ikramuddin, who polishes tools.
Government schemes mired in “prakriya (process)” and corruption sharpen anti-incumbency. For instance, the Bhamashah Yojana, touted by the Rajasthan government as a first-of-its-kind direct benefit transfer scheme.
In people’s accounts, the Bhamashah Swasthya Bima Yojana (health insurance scheme) is bogged down by supporting documents and signatures needed on one end and the greed of private hospitals on the other which are accused of inflating costs and getting away because of lax monitoring.
And in the coaching centres of Sikar and upper caste drawing rooms in cities like Jaipur and Jodhpur, the young find an easy villain — for them, reservation for backward castes is to blame.
An upper-caste quota is also on the top of the list of demands of Rajputs in Rajasthan. In this election, alienation of this community, or sections of it, has created a new challenge for the BJP — erstwhile rulers and landowners, the Rajputs have been a traditional Jan Sangh-BJP vote-bank even as the peasantry gravitated to the Congress after the post-Independence movements of land reform.
In this election’s list of “Rajput” discontents: In August 2016, the Jaipur Rajmahal Palace property was sealed by the Jaipur Development Authority; Jaswant Singh was denied a BJP ticket in 2014, his son Manvendra Singh left the BJP and is now the Congress candidate against Raje; the “encounter” of gangster Anand Pal Singh in 2017 and history-sheeter Chatur Singh in Jaisalmer; the “Samrau kaand (incident)” in a village near Jodhpur early this year, where Rajput vs Jat tensions flared.
“Rajput identity is in crisis”, says L S Rathore, former Vice Chancellor of Jodhpur University. “In the village they have been overtaken by Jats and Bishnois (OBCs). In urban areas, they feel left out of reservations.”
Under a babool tree, in village Sanderao, Jodhpur, Jaidev Singh Ranawat strikes a quintessential Rajput pose: “The BJP is in our DNA. But now, they don’t give us enough tickets during elections. Hum annadaata the, aaj bheekh mangte hain (we were benefactors, today we are forced to beg).” In the end, however, Rajput anger with the BJP may be more reproach than rebellion. “We voted for Modi because of terrorism, Hindus and the cow, yet he is doing nothing”, says Ranawat.
Certainly, the Modi wave that swept through Rajasthan in 2013 and 2014, winning the BJP 163 out of 200 seats in the Assembly and all 25 Lok Sabha seats, has receded. “Ham pak gaye hain vigyapan se, moorti se. Bhookhe aadmi ko kuchch nahin soojhta (We are tired of propaganda, statues. A hungry man cannot appreciate any of this)”, says Mohan Lalji, businessman, in a mobile shop in Pindwara, off the Jodhpur-Udaipur highway.
Yet, many who express a grievance with Rajasthan’s BJP government also look to the Modi government at the Centre to push a Ram temple through in Ayodhya. And for all its distressing aftermath, there is support for his policy of demonetisation — it is still largely seen as a step taken in good faith. “If you work, in every 10 things you do, you might get one thing wrong”, Bhagirath in Badusar village in Sikar, explains his despite-it-all support for the PM.
Bhagirath is one of those who repeats the slogan, “Modi tujh se bair nahin, Vasundhara teri khair nahin”. He is indifferent to Rahul, he says, because “How can we say anything about him? He has never sat on a seat of power, wielded any responsibility”.
Curiously, PM Modi also gets more than a few thumbs up for his “videsh niti (foreign policy)” in town and village. “Videshon mein naam kiya hai (he has made a name for India abroad)”, says Manish Marwal, in Mandawa, Jhunjhunu. “Hinduon ka maan badhaya hai (he has got respect for Hindus)”, says Shyamlal Prajapati, who runs an IT software franchise in Sikar.
But if PM Modi is still given the benefit of several doubts, CM Raje has become the prime magnet for the dust stirred up by anti-incumbency.
Her perceived hauteur, which has been her strength in a deeply feudal state, is now seen as evidence of a growing disconnect. Many say that the over-large 2013 mandate bred arrogance. Or, conversely, that she spent the better part of this term fighting off challenges within the BJP to her supremacy.
On the ground, RSS workers also grumble about “Madam”. They accuse her administration of being non-responsive to their agitations — against the demolition and relocation of temples because of Metro work in Jaipur, or against “love jihad” in districts across the state.
For the RSS, though, which has enjoyed the fruits of BJP power in the last five years, from rewriting of textbooks to appointments in universities, angst has its limits. “Raje should win, but not win more than 100 seats”, an RSS swayamswevak who is also a BJP district secretary, spells out his preferred outcome.