Jaipur: Imagine a mythological swayamvar where political parties are cast as brides and voters as potential grooms. Picture next a Jat boy amid the list of likely beaus.
The girls start wooing the Jat lad immediately. They declare undying love for him and announce that their lives would be incomplete without him. Eager for his attention, they even have a catfight. And just when the boy is convinced that he would be the groom, the garland drops around some other person’s neck.
Thirteen more swayamvars follow. But the Jat boy, in spite of being the centre of the girl’s attention, ultimately ends up in the list of baraatis.
This poignant tale of the still-celibate boy sums up the past, present and possible future of Jat politics in Rajasthan.
Unfortunately for the community, everybody wants the Jat vote in the state. Every party brews gallons of charm potions to attract them before the polls. But not one political party is willing to see the community’s candidate as chief minister. And this rankles every Jat heart.
According to independent estimates, Jats are 10.8 percent of the electorate. What makes them a potent political force is their propensity to vote as a single entity, come out in large numbers on polling day and the fact that they are concentrated in just a dozen districts of the state. Just like Muslims, they are a solid vote bank. But unlike the minorities, they swing both ways.
How they would vote is easy to predict. If there is a Jat in the fray, the vote goes to him. If there are two, the bigger Jat gets the collective nod. In 1990, for instance, when Devi Lal took on Balram Jakhar in Sikar, Tau was accepted as the big brother.
And when there is no Jat in the fray, the party that is seen favouring the community’s claim to the top post becomes the favourite. As the saying goes, Jat ki beti, Jat ki roti, Jat ka note, sirf Jat ko. (Jat's daughter, Jat's food, Jat's money, only for the Jat)
For almost 50 years after Independence, Congress was the darling of Jats. This was primarily because the opposition was dominated by leaders from erstwhile Royal Rajput families. And even the Jansangh (and later BJP) was led by Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, again a Rajput. For years, Rajputs were to Jats what a snake is to a mongoose. (For more on the complex relation, I recommend JP Dutta’s Ghulami).
Naturally, both the communities stayed on opposite side of the political divide, Jats with the Congress and Rajputs with the opposition. And since the Jat vote weighed heavier, it tilted the scale in Congress’ favour till 1990, with the exception of 1977.
Then came 1998, Ashok Gehlot and Vasundhara Raje (in that order) and everything changed. How?
So far, Rajasthan has had a chief minister from almost every community, except the Jats. In 1998, the Jats thought they had their chance. Their leader Paras Ram Maderna, now more famous as the father of sacked Rajasthan minister Mahipal who had that widely televised romp with slain nurse Bhanwari Devi, was seen as the front runner for the post. Ecstatic Jats voted in large numbers, sending 42 MLAs of their community to the Assembly, the highest in Rajasthan’s history.
But the garland finally fell on Ashok Gehlot’s shoulders and Maderna was confined to the job of maintaining decorum in the Assembly as its speaker. The Jats anointed Gehlot as their No1enemy and remained in the chamber for sulkers for the next five years. They had their vengeance in 2003, when Jat-bahu Vasundhara Raje decimated the Congress and dislodged Gehlot. If not a Jat beta, at least a Jat bahu, the community consoled itself and moved on. Or did it?
Since 2008, when Gehlot became chief minister again, the Jats have been spending sleepless nights, troubled by their old dream of their man as CM. But the future looks tense.
Though both the BJP and the Congress want the Jat vote, they also realize that social equations have changed over the past decade. Rajputs, who evoked anger among masses because of their feudal past, have been assimilated socially because they are now seen more as custodians of heritage hotels, havelis and handlebar moustaches than politics.
Jats, in the meantime, have become the new rallying point for other communities who resent their political hegemony. In fact, other castes have learnt the art of tactically voting against any community that uses its political clout to suppress others. Jats, Meenas and Gurjars are among the targets of this reverse polarization in their respective areas of nuisance.
In 2003, not a single Jat had won from the ten assembly seats in Nagaur, the imaginary capital of the theoretical Jatland. In 2008, the number of Jats in the Vidhan Sabha fell to just 24. Obviously, Jats have lost their political Mojo.
Their leadership has either been discredited and wiped out or sent to jail. The BJP today doesn’t have a single Jat leader of substance. And, for sheer lack of choice, the Congress has been forced to appoint Chandrabhan, a man who last won an election when MS Dhoni was in kindergarten, as its state chief.
But the Jats haven't given up. They still want to attend the next swayamvar. But aware of the changed social dynamics both the BJP and the Congress have become cautious. They won’t mind shamelessly flirting with the Jats till the ballots are boxed. But when it comes to consummating the relation, it seems the Jat boy will have to endure brahmacharya (celibacy) for a few more years.
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