New Delhi: Looking to win over another vote bank, Mayawati, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader, is wooing the Gujjar community and promised at a 17 Februaryrally in Jaipur to support their demand for scheduled tribe (ST) status.
If they are classified as STs, the Gujjars, who are currently referred to as other backward communities, or OBCs, would be eligible for a host of new entitlements, particularly jobs in the state government.
However, the Meenas, the most dominant ST caste in the state, have opposed the Gujjar claim.
BSP Rajasthan state leader Dharamveer Singh Ashok said the party is also in talks with Col Kirori Singh Bainsla, the Gujjar leader who led the agitations in end-May demanding ST status for the community.
Bainsla, who had earlier planned to float a political party representing the Gujjars, has now indicated that he may be willing to join the BSP. “We welcome it (Mayawati statement). But, the policy should be crystal clear and she should also look after the Gujjars in Uttar Pradesh who are as backward (as Gujjars in Rajasthan).”
He also indicated that the Gujjars, who are unhappy with the state’s rulingBharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for not delivering on their electoral promise, might vote en masse for the BSP.
The Gujjars, who were classified as a criminal tribe by the British, were recommended ST status by the Lokur committee in 1965. However, successive governments did not follow through.
In the 2003 Rajasthan assembly elections, the BJP had orally promised ST status to the Gujjars, even while it had promised the OBC status to Jats. The Gujjars feared that including more communities in the OBC fold would dilute their prospects and hence wanted to be classified as STs.
Violent agitations, which eventually led to clashes with the powerful Meena community, started after the BJP government failed to grant ST status to them even four years after coming to power.
It was called off, after the state government agreed to appoint a committee, headed by justice Jasraj Chopra, to examine the claims made by the Gujjar community. The committee, which submitted its findings in mid-December, rejected the Gujjar claim, even while recommending special financial assistance for them.
The state government has since forwarded it to the Centre without any recommendation. Under the Constitution, while the state government can recommend ST status, it is the Centre which has the powers to notify it.
Political representatives of the Gujjars and the BSP claim that their vote could be critical in around 65 of the 200 assembly seats in Rajasthan.
The BSP strategy at the moment seems to be to assuage both the Meenas and the Gujjars.
“We are trying to create brotherhood among the Meenas and Gujjars, as compared to the divisive politics of the BJP,” said Ashok.
Mayawati has promised an increase in the overall quota for STs that would ensure equal opportunities for both the Gujjars and Meenas. This would, however, mean that the share of scheduled castes, or SCs, the vote base for the BSP would stand reduced—total reservation for SCs and STs is capped at 22.5%.
The BSP currently has just two members in the Legislative Assembly in Rajasthan and both are from the Meena community.
The?BJP?is?also seeking to win over the two communities but, by pursuing a seemingly divisive agenda. By not supporting the Gujjar demand for ST status, they have been trying to win favour with the Meenas.
Meenas, a numerically stronger community, estimated by political parties to be around 15% of the population in Rajasthan, compared with Gujjars, who constitute only around 5%, have traditionally been a Congress vote-bank.
Meanwhile, a special economic package for the Gujjars drafted by the Ramdas Agarwal committee, set up after the Chopra committee filed its submissions, is likely to be announced in early March. At the same time, the BJP is uneasy with the latest developments.
BJP’s member of Parliament from Barmer, Manvendra Singh, said, “This is an attempt to incite people based on BSP’s negative strategy. The BJP has a committed vote bank and I don’t think it will be affected (by such announcements).”
Arguing similarly, Kalu Lal Gurjar, the state minister for rural development and panchayati raj, said, “There will be no impact of Mayawati’s announcement on the BJP, since the people very well know that Mayawati cannot do anything.” Meanwhile, Gujjar leaders have indicated that they are not interested in the special economic package. According to Bainsla, the response from the Gujjars to the proposed package is “lukewarm”.
The Gujjars are also seeking to broaden their power base by seeking an alliance with Brahmins and Rajputs, who have traditionally voted for the BJP and have of late wanted special reservations in government jobs.