WHEN AN upper caste mob went on the rampage on April 3, the day after a Bharat Bandh called by Dalits over what they said was a move to dilute the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act following a Supreme Court order, the homes of two Hindaun politicians were set ablaze.
Hindaun’s Congress candidate, Bharosi Lal Jatav, is yet to repair his house. His supporters say it is a testimony to the caste violence and want people to see it every day.
About 500 metres away, the other house has a fresh coat of paint and no reminders of that day. But the BJP chose not to nominate its owner, MLA Rajkumari Jatav, and opted for Manju Khairwal, the daughter of a former IAS officer.
With the Rajasthan elections just three days away, the only party event Rajkumari has attended in Hindaun was a rally addressed by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Monday. The Jatavs are the single-largest community in this SC-reserved seat and the MLA’s reluctance to campaign has left BJP workers grumbling.
“I am campaigning in the neighbouring Karauli constituency. All I can say is that we will know the effects on December 11 when the results are announced,” said Rajkumari. “She has spent most of her time in Karauli. She has attended one or two programmes here,” said Dileep Gupta, BJP’s Hindaun city president.
In the six months since April 3, the Hindaun incident remains the most recent, and most powerful, poll marker for Dalits in the state, where they form close to 16 per cent of the electorate.
On March 20, the Supreme Court laid down stringent safeguards for arrests under the SC/ST Act, including provisions for anticipatory bail, a “preliminary enquiry” before registering a case and prior permission for arrests. In August, the Parliament amended the Act to effectively nullify the guidelines. The amendments have since been challenged in the Supreme Court.
In Hindaun, none of that matters. “The election here is about April 3, that’s it. The incident has polarised this seat so much that there are Jatavs on one side and everybody else on the other. That’s why the BJP has not nominated their sitting MLA. They want the other votes,” claimed Nandlal Jatav, who campaigns for the Ambedkarite Party of India.
Advocate and Centre for Dalit Rights (CDR) patron P L Mimroth said the unrest over the SC/ST Act had galvanised Dalits. “But in Rajasthan, this is a unique situation where neither national party wants to speak about it. This has left Dalits angry, and with little choice,” he said.
Across the state, particularly the 34 SC-reserved seats, Dalits are left with little choice, Nandlal says. “We cannot vote for the BJP, and the Congress thinks we will automatically vote for them. That’s why the Ambedkarite Party is contesting 29 seats,” he said.
With the BSP contesting 197 of the state’s 200 seats, Congress sources admit that a victory is not possible without the support of Dalits. Of those 34 seats, the BJP won 33 in the 2013 state polls, and the National Unionist Zamindara Party’s Sona Devi won the Raisingh Nagar seat. In 2014, however, the Congress won Weir in a by-poll — and Sona Devi joined the party this May.
About 450 km west of Hindaun, in Nagaur district, Badami Devi has been waiting for a BJP or Congress leader to turn up for more than three years since her husband Ratnaram Meghwal was allegedly mowed down by Jats with a tractor in Dangawas. “I want to ask them why they have not supported us,” she said.
In May 2015, Ratnaram, Pancharam, Ganesharam, Pokarram and Ganpatram, all Dalits, succumbed to their injuries in a hospital following an alleged attack over land belonging to Ratnaram. Rampal Gosain, who was not a Dalit, also died in the violence, allegedly from a bullet injury.
Local residents say Congress leader P L Punia visited the village but as chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, while Congress leaders in Nagaur have remained silent over the issue while attacking the BJP government over law and order.
Village elder Labhuram (76) says the BJP government has fulfilled only one of their 18 demands — a CBI inquiry — and that 27 people have been arrested but “13 perpetrators are still absconding”.
Govind Ram (29), an activist and member of Yuva Ambedkar Sangathan, says the reason is simple. “Our Assembly seat is Merta, which is reserved for SCs, but there are plenty of Jat voters, so no party wants to be seen as being too close to us,” he said.
According to the BJP’s internal documents, there are 53,000 SC voters in Merta and 43,000 Jats followed by Muslims, Rajputs and Brahmins. And this time, the BJP has fielded Bhanwara Ram while Congress has fielded Sonu Chitara.
But Ratnaram’s brother Khemaram says they are angry at the BJP over “its attempt to dilute the SC/ST Act”, but also disillusioned with the Congress over “its approach to the killings”. Moreover, residents say, the Congress candidate is married to a Jat.
Their alternative is a man in the middle: Laxman Ram, an independent who contested in 2013 on a Congress ticket but lost to the BJP.