Agniveer scheme, caste polarisation & Jat reservation cost BJP Rajasthan

BJP swept most of Rajasthan’s 25 seats in last Lok Sabha elections; However, this time it won only 14

Amid the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ‘Over 400’ rhetoric and Congress’ expectations of winning around 295 seats, the Indian electorate has cast its vote somewhere in between in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections. However, no political party has been given a clear mandate to form the government. Many states have witnessed voting trends that have unleashed major embarrassment for poll pundits and exit poll surveyors. 

One such state is Rajasthan. 

The BJP has secured 14 of the total 25 seats in the desert state. While the party has bagged the maximum seats, its performance this time seems to pale when compared to the previous two Lok Sabha elections in the state. In 2014, BJP had won all seats in Rajasthan while in 2019, it won all but one. 

A variety of factors are believed to have contributed to the BJP’s retreat. Its overconfidence is said to have been one. Also, a unified Congress, the eclipsing of national issues by local ones and casteist polarisation have played a pivotal role in the reduction of BJP’s seats. 

Apart from BJP, the INDIA alliance won 11 seats which comprised eight seats won by Congress, a seat each won by Communist Party of India (Marxist), Rashtriya Loktantrik Dal (RLTP) and Bharatiya Tribal Party. 

Geographically, BJP secured almost every seat in the Marwar and Mewar regions barring Barmer, whereas the India alliance won in eastern Rajasthan’s Brij and Mewat. Also, Congress won in the Shekhawati region and bagged all three seats of Jhunjhunu, Sriganganagar and Churu. CPI(M) won Sikar while RLTP won in Nagaur. 

Shekhawati — where caste battles were contested fiercely

The Shekhawati region was the site of the most vigorous competition for votes among different castes during the assembly polls conducted last November. It was where BJP faced serious challenges. 

Despite BJP forming government in the state, its senior face and former leader of the opposition in the assembly Rajendra Singh Rathore lost the election from Taranagar seat. Congress’ Jat leader Narendra Budhania defeated him. 

For the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP replaced its two-time MP Rahul Kaswan with paralympic athlete Devendra Jhajharia because Rathore had alleged internal sabotage after his defeat. Rathore was reportedly not inclined towards the party’s Jat MP Kaswan. Angry over the ticket being cut, Kaswan joined the Congress party. During the election campaign, Kaswan also targeted Rathore because it favoured his caste equations. Kaswan won with 72,737 votes, securing a hat-trick victory.

Five months ago, the conflict between Jats and Rajputs began from the Churu district in Rajasthan and soon spread across the entire Marwar region, including Barmer, Jaisalmer, Nagaur, and Jalore. The statements made by BJP candidate and former Union Minister Parshottam Rupala from Rajkot in Gujarat against Rajputs added fuel to the fire. During the elections, Rajput organisations swore not to vote for the BJP and several meetings were held.

Although Rajputs are traditionally BJP supporters, in this election, the Rajput community did not show as much interest in voting as they have in the past. Caste polarisation went to such an extent that the BJP couldn’t handle it, and the election slipped through their fingers. As a result, the BJP lost all three seats in Shekhawati.

In the Sikar seat, the Congress let its INDIA alliance ally, CPI (M), contest. This led to the end of internal politics within the Congress in Sikar, and the entire Congress vote shifted to the Left. Additionally, the impact of the farmers’ agitation has been felt in Shekhawati and Sriganganagar, which is adjacent to Punjab. The Sriganganagar seat was also won by Congress’s Kuldeep Indora.

Also, Kirodi Lal Meena, the ST leader from Rajasthan, was expected to get the coveted post of deputy chief minister. Rather, his appointment in the state cabinet irked the Meena community.

Angst against Agniveer initiative

One significant reason for the BJP’s defeat was the opposition to the Agniveer scheme. The Congress capitalised on the angst during the elections, even promising to end the scheme in its manifesto. 

Since the majority of recruits in the army from Rajasthan come from the Shekhawati region, the youth there did not vote for the BJP. 

It’s worth noting that there are over 45,000 serving soldiers and 70,000 ex-servicemen in the Indian Army from Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district alone. 

When Churu, Sikar, and Jhunjhunu are taken together, there are around 80,000 to 0.12 million ex-servicemen in the districts. Since the implementation of the Agniveer scheme, youth across Rajasthan, including these districts, have stopped preparing to join the army. Coaching centres in these districts have also been reduced by a third.

Due to the short duration of this four-year job scheme, youths are unable to get married. Overall, the impact of the central Agniveer scheme was felt on the social and economic life here. This generated resentment among the youth towards the BJP, ultimately leading to the party’s defeat.

Jat reservation demand and mobilisation 

The BJP also faced defeat in all four of eastern Rajasthan’s seats: Bharatpur (SC reserved), Dholpur-Karauli (SC reserved), Dausa (ST reserved), and Tonk-Sawai Madhopur. 

The loss here is even more concerning for the BJP because Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Bhajan Lal Sharma comes from Bharatpur.

Congress’s 25-year-old candidate Sanjana Jatav defeated BJP’s Ramswaroop Koli with 51,983 votes. Before this, she contested in the assembly elections from Kathumar but lost by merely 409 votes.

Jat reservation was also a significant issue in eastern Rajasthan. Jats were unhappy with the BJP due to the lack of reservation at the central level. Additionally, the party sidelined former MP Krishnendra Kaur Deepa. This led to dissatisfaction among Jats in the Deeg-Kumher and Vair regions, causing the party to lag behind in these constituencies.

Not entrusting Vasundhara Raje with poll responsibility 

Vasundhara Raje is a prominent leader with a significant mass appeal within the BJP. However, in these elections, the BJP’s central leadership overlooked the former Chief Minister.

Consequently, Raje focused all her attention on her son Dushyant Singh’s constituency — Jhalawar. 

Even in the previous assembly elections, she was activated quite late, but after winning the election, CM Bhajan Lal Sharma was appointed, and Raje’s preferred leaders were not included in the cabinet. The party distanced itself from Vasundhara and those close to her. Therefore, in the Lok Sabha elections, the Vasundhara faction did not actively support the party as openly as they had done in previous elections. This resulted in significant losses for the BJP.

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