New Delhi: While the stand-off between the Rajasthan government and the agitating Gujjars could benefit the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the assembly polls due later this year by consolidating the anti-Gujjar votes in its favour, the party could suffer a backlash in Delhi and other states where the community has a presence and that are set to go to polls.
The Gujjars have been demanding a shift from the category of Other Backward Classes, or OBCs, to that of Scheduled Tribes, or STs, so they can have easier access to government jobs and education in Rajasthan. They have been been unable to compete with the dominant Jats, who were included in the OBC category nearly a decade ago.
However, the numerically stronger Meenas, who enjoy the benefits of reservation for STs, would resent any competitor. That is why the Gujjars have been politically and socially isolated in their cause.
A photo of the recent Gujjar protest in Rajasthan. The community is demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) status (Photo: Madhu Kapparath / Mint)
This may, however,come at a price.
“Gujjars across the country will vote against the BJP in the next elections,” said Ram Saran Bhati, executive president of the All India Gujjar Mahasabha. “Though we have traditionally voted for the Congress, during the last elections in Delhi we had directed our community to vote for the best candidates. This time, we will vote for those who can defeat BJP’s candidates.”
Bhati said the Gujjars had voted for the BJP in Rajasthan only because the party promised to further their cause.
Though no caste-based survey has been carried out since 1931, the Gujjars estimate their population across the country at around 150 million.
“The Gujjars may not be big enough to decide the outcome of the election, but they are dominant in a few parliamentary seats and several assembly seats,” said Satish Deshpande, a sociologist at the University of Delhi.
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a vice-president of the BJP, however, dismissed the threat.
“We should not overestimate the capability of the Gujjar leaders to dictate the community’s voting pattern,” he said.
Of the four key states where elections are due around November, the BJP is expected to face a resurgent opposition in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the party is in power.
In Delhi, however, the BJP had been hoping for a comfortable win because of an expected anti-incumbency factor against the ruling Congress party.
Bhati said the Gujjars number around 10% of the population in Delhi, the highest in any state going to polls this year. He said the community can prove decisive in at least two of the seven Lok Sabha seats and nearly 10 of the 70 assembly seats.
The BJP had won just one Lok Sabha seat in 2004, while the Congress swept six seats. Earlier, in the assembly polls of 2003, the BJP won just 20 seats, while the Congress won 47.
With the Congress expected to weaken in Delhi, the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party has been eyeing the upcoming polls as well. However, just like the Congress, the BSP hasn’t supported the cause of ST status. “We will support their demand for ST status, but only by expanding the ST quota and not by eating into the quota of the other communities,” said Zakir Hussain, who is expected to contest as a BSP candidate from Gurgaon next time.
“This demand has nothing to do with us,” maintains Jai Prakash Aggarwal, president of the Congress party’s Delhi unit. “The BJP government promised the ST status, but it hasn’t even made such a recommendation to the Centre.”
Sobaran Singh Mavai, a Gujjar leader and Madhya Pradesh minister, said the choice was clear. “We won’t boycott the Congress, but we could support the BSP if it seems better placed to defeat the BJP.”
Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu contributed to this story.