The Hindu (Mumbai)

Churn in Churu: individual­s, caste matter more than party ideology in Rajasthan

- Sobhana K. Nair

A curious contest is unfolding in Churu, known as the gateway to Rajasthan’s Thar desert, and one of the hottest regions of the State. Both the BJP and the Congress have fielded Jat candidates here, but the electoral battle lines are being drawn across the ageold RajputJat rivalry.

After being denied a ticket by the BJP, the incumbent MP Rahul Kaswan switched over to the Congress. He is now facing paralympic javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia, whom the BJP picked in his place. Rather than the faceoff between these two, however, the political narrative on the ground is centred around the feud between the Kaswan family and the BJP’s Rajput face and former leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore, converting it into a prestige battle between them, with Mr. Jhajharia largely being seen as a proxy for Mr. Rathore.

Mr. Kaswan and his father Ram Singh Kaswan hold an unbroken record in this constituen­cy; between them, they have won the seat five straight times from 1999, and the senior Kaswan previously won it in 1991 as well. “When I was denied the ticket, I asked them, ‘What did I do wrong?’ But I did not get any reply from them,” Mr. Kaswan told The Hindu, as we caught up with him on Thursday morning. He grew up calling Mr. Rathore kaka or uncle, an affectiona­te term for a man who used to be his father’s close friend, but Mr. Kaswan is now crying himself hoarse about how Mr. Rathore is “manipulati­ng the system” and “misguiding the state leadership”.

The obvious question that begs an answer is how a person who has advocated on behalf of the BJP for nearly three decades can now speak on behalf of the Congress, and more importantl­y, will the voters buy the switch. Mr. Kaswan dismissive­ly answered: “We are a developing economy, people need their representa­tive for daytoday issues. The party or its ideology is irrelevant here. Party is big, but the people are bigger.”

Nationalis­m, he says, while important, cannot feed hungry stomachs, or deal with a pesky bureaucrac­y. The stark scenary around him, with miles and miles of sand dunes held together by thorny keekar trees, offers evidence of the tough life here.

Mr. Kaswan chooses his words carefully when critiquing his erstwhile party, the BJP. His primary objection is that individual voices are being shut out in the

BJP chorus. “Who decides the party line? It can’t be crafted by a computer programme, it is not an AIgenerate­d concept. Individual­s should be given importance,” he asserted. He puts Prime Minister Narendra Modi above petty party politics. “I have nothing against the Prime Minister. I have worked with him for 10 years, why should I complain,” he said.

Wooing the Jat vote

Last week, Mr. Modi was here with a singleline pitch. “Narendra has come to ask for votes for Devendra,” he had said, advocating for the BJP candidate.

Much like the Churu weather — where temperatur­es soar to over 50 degrees in hot summer afternoons and fall equally sharply as the sun sets — the voters are blowing hot and cold. The electoral results will be decided by two factors. One: between Mr. Kaswan and Mr. Jhajhariya, who do the voters consider a bigger Jat leader? Out of Churu’s 22 lakh voters, over six lakh are from the Jat community. Second: who will be the choice of the Dalit voters, who form the second biggest bloc of the electorate? The Opposition leaders’ repeated claims that the Constituti­on will be altered if the Modiled government returns for a third time has become a real fear for the Dalit voters here. They were spooked by Jyoti Mirdha, the BJP’s candidate from the neighbouri­ng Nagaur constituen­cy, and her nowviral speech about some “tough decisions” and “revising the Constituti­on”.

“We have heard they want to remove the Constituti­on that Baba Saheb Ambedkar drafted. It is clear, they want to remove reservatio­n. The inflation is sky high, if they remove reservatio­n too, which helps our children, where will we go?” said 38yearold Dayanand Meghwal at Ramsara village. This fear is heard over and over again across the villages of Churu. In Boontia village, about 35 km away, 27yearold Subash Meghwal specifical­ly points to Ms. Mirdha’s video as a “confirmati­on” of his fears.

While Mr. Modi’s popularity remains undiminish­ed, there is equally a sentiment that he alone cannot deliver the goods. The Jats are also feeling slighted by the government’s indifferen­ce to their concerns. “In the previous government­s, the army recruitmen­t rallies were held once every six months. Our children used to easily get jobs. Now they are hiring only for four years as part of the Agniveer scheme,” says Badri Ram, speaking in Pulasara, about 40 km away from Churu town. “When the farmers sat on agitation, no one from the government came forward to speak to them or resolve their issues. When our athletes sat on dharna, once again the government turned a blind eye,” he said.

For some, there are no elaborate reasons behind their decision at the ballot box. “I voted for Rahul Kaswan in the last election and this time again I will vote for him,” said 67yearold Paari Devi, a Jat voter, indicating that Mr. Kaswan’s switch from the BJP to the Congress is immaterial to her. There are also some voices — though they are limited to hardcore BJP supporters — who feel that Mr. Kaswan is no more entitled to the ticket than anyone else. “This is not a monarchy where one family will continue to rule over us. Why did he leave the party just because he was denied the ticket?” Balchand Prajapat, an LIC agent, said, in the same breath as he rattles off statistics on the achievemen­ts of the BJP government over the last 10 years.

 ?? ?? Devendra Jhajharia.
Devendra Jhajharia.
 ?? ?? Rahul Kaswan
Rahul Kaswan

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India