Jats, Rajputs, Gurjars, Meenas, Brahmins, Yadavs… it is caste all the way in the political arena. In the poll season, perhaps what makes most sense is caste; what dominates ticket distribution is caste and ultimately what fetches votes is caste. Caste rules the roost in Indian polity and the state of Rajasthan is no exception.
If it was not so, all political parties making tall claims of high ideals and great formulas would not succumb to the lure of caste based politics. Corruption, inflation and other issues do matter so is the anti-incumbency factor. Yet, what makes someone a political heavyweight or a vulnerable figure largely depends on the caste support.
A ticket aspirant may have the caliber, guts and oratory but without caste base, poll victory may be an elusive dream. It was evident in the last Lok Sabha election, when Sachin Pilot was made to choose a new constituency following delimitation. Congress party made him contest from no other seat than Ajmer, which had equally strong Gurjar vote bank. The strategy did work in his favour.
The same year Dausa Lok Sabha seat saw the battle between three Meenas and one Yadav. The result was as expected— Dr Kirori Lal Meena won even as an independent because of his strong hold in the Meena community.
Rajasthan politics has always been witness to caste politics though both major political parties— Congress and BJP— love to accuse each other of over indulging in it. Both parties know well that an aspirant’s chances of winning are greater if he/she manages to tilt the caste balance in his/her favour. That is why tickets are mostly distributed keeping the caste calculation in mind.
If a particular caste is concentrated in a constituency, major political parties would field their candidates from that particular caste.
What an irony it is that political leaders have to live with their community credentials? Though they do not vociferously project themselves to be leaders of a particular community only, it is too difficult to shed the caste veneer. For example, Rajputs claim Vasundhara Raje to be Rajput leader, Mali community sees Ashok Gehlot as their leader, late Nathu Ram Mirdha was a celebrated Jat leader, so is Paras Ram Maderna. Brahmins want Dr CP Joshi to patronize the interest of Brahmins.
These leaders are expected to protect and promote the interests of their communities. Their mindset reflects in the poll manifestos, public meetings held in regions dominated by a certain caste or community and the doles rolled out after coming to power. They are invited to chair the community rallies which they cannot resist the temptation of attending, for the fear of losing grip within their own community.
Few leaders perhaps have the courage to ride against the community waves like late BJP leader and ex-vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat did. He displayed tremendous courage in not endorsing conservative Rajput ideology whether it was abolition of Jagirdari system (feudalistic regime) or the abhorred system of Sati.
Leaders should have the grit and courage to rise above petty partisan politics that thrives on caste equations if they truly want to become leaders with mass appeal. Can we hope to see a future where political parties would put caliber before caste?
The writer is a senior journalist