Ahead of Rajasthan polls, Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal's third front comes as best news for BJP, but not without challenges
In the Rajasthan Assembly elections, Hanuman Beniwal's RLP is hoping to divide anti-BJP votes and thus harm the Congress, as well as Vasundhara Raje.
The rise of a third front in Rajasthan led by Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal is the best piece of news the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have heard in recent months. The new outfit will not only help the BJP in the upcoming Assembly elections but also in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The new front led by Beniwal’s fledgling Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) is primarily a congregation of former BJP leaders who don’t see a future for themselves in the saffron party under Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. Their common goal is to get into a position from where they can harm not just the Congress but Raje, as well. The end game of their politics is to demolish Raje and return to the BJP as new power centres of politics in Rajasthan.
In the Rajasthan Assembly elections scheduled for 7 December, the RLP is hoping to divide anti-BJP votes and thus harm the Congress. Beniwal and his supporters believe they will win a significant number of seats in a hung Assembly and emerge kingmakers — like HD Kumaraswamy in Karnataka. If that happens, their first choice would be the BJP, minus Raje.
The only leader of significance in the third front is Beniwal himself, by virtue of being a leader of the Jats, who are believed to vote en masse for one party in accordance with an old saying in Rajasthan — Jat ki roti, Jat ka vote, pehle Jat ko. At the moment, Jats do not have a leader with a pan-Rajasthan following. Beniwal’s aim is to fill up this vacuum and become the undisputed leader of the community in the state — considered 12 to 14 percent of the electorate — and unify them.
In an election being defined by an undercurrent of anti-incumbency against Raje, the Congress would have been a natural choice for the Jats. Beniwal’s presence will give the community another option, therefore hurting the Congress' prospects.
However, the challenge for Beniwal is to lead the community away from the Congress. He is trying to do this by attacking former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who is disliked by Jats for eclipsing leaders from the community in the party. But this strategy may be thwarted by the rise of Sachin Pilot, who is starting with a clean slate with the Jats. The Congress is sending out signals that Pilot is its chief ministerial pick for Rajasthan, thus taking the Jat anger against Gehlot out of the equation.
The other problem for the third front is the absence of a broader social coalition. Unlike Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar, or Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, who have the support of Muslims and a few other communities, the Jats stand alone with Beniwal. So their 12 to 14 percent votes can help them defeat a candidate but not win an election. Also, whenever a powerful community starts asserting itself in Rajasthan, it leads to counter-polarisation. This problem could have been addressed if the other leaders in the new front had a large base. But Beniwal’s partners. such as Ghanshyam Tiwari, lack the ability to win from even their own constituencies. So the third front may not find the going easy, with just one leader of significance on the forefront.
In the long run though, Beniwal’s rise will help the BJP. It is widely believed that whatever the outcome of the Assembly polls, the BJP will fight elections to Parliament under a new leader who will replace Raje. In all likelihood, the BJP will either anoint a Rajput or a Brahmin as its new face. If Beniwal joins the party under the new leadership, the BJP will be able to forge a larger social coalition, giving it access to a wider vote base than in the Assembly polls.
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