Rajasthan is a land of myriad colours, and this pluralism extends to the communities and ethnicities that make up the population of the state.
The state is made up of 89 percent Hindus, 9 percent Muslims while 2 percent belong to other religions. The Scheduled Caste (SC) population is 18 percent, Scheduled Tribe (ST) 13 percent, Jats 12 percent, Gujjars and Rajputs 9 percent each, Brahmins and Minas 7 percent each.
Among these, the Rajputs and the Jats have been at loggerheads ever since the princely states were merged into the Indian Union in 1952. At that time, the princes had fielded a large number of their nominees, and the electorate which was used to being ruled by the kings had voted for them.
As a result, in the 1952 assembly elections, out of the total 160 seats, the Rajputs won 54, the Jats 12, Muslims two and the Scheduled Castes 10. However, in the coming years, the Jats and the Bishnois started emerging. And, in the next assembly election, the seats won by Rajputs almost halved (26), while Jats got double the number of seats (23).
Out of the 26 Rajputs that won, a majority belonged to the BJP. However, the case was reversed for the Jats with a majority of Congress members. In the present day, both the Congress and the BJP are trying to woo the Rajputs and the Jats in over 60 assembly seats.
The notion that caste plays a major role in these elections is embellished by the fact that both the Congress and the BJP have asked ticket aspirants to mention their castes as that would be the main consideration for nominations.
The caste conflict in the state is happening for two reasons — caste-based identity politics and reservations. Because of caste politics, people vote en bloc as a community expecting to reap benefits as one.
In fact, Rajasthan was the first state to accord OBC (Other Backward Classes) status to the Jats back in 1999 when the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government was in power. Barring the Jats of the Bharatpur and Dholpur region, the Jats of Rajasthan were included in the OBC category by both the Centre and the state for the purpose of reservations. The benefits of reservations were not extended to the Jats of the Bharatpur-Dhopur region because they were believed to be the ruling class of the pre-Independence era and therefore not considered socially or economically backward.
However, this changed in August 2017, when the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government included them in the OBC category after they threatened to stage an agitation and disrupted road and rail traffic last year.
The Gujjars in the desert state have also been staging protests for almost a decade, demanding OBC status for their community. The BJP government had obliged in 2017 by giving an additional 5 percent quota to the community, increasing the OBC quota in the state from 21 percent to 26 percent.
However, the total reservation quota increased to 54 percent and was struck down by the Rajasthan High Court. Since then, the Gujjars have been demanding that the current 21 percent OBC quota be categorised and their community be included in it. As a result, they are at loggerheads with the Jats who reap the benefits of the OBC quota and fear that the Gujjars will eat into their welfare schemes.
In July 2018, the Vasundhara Raje government granted the Gujjars OBC status, including them in the existing 21 percent quota, with an additional one percent quota as MBC (Most Backward Class) taking the total reservation in the state to 50 percent — the maximum limit allowed by the Supreme Court.
Apart from the reservation, Gujjars had another reason to protest — little political representation as compared the Minas who enjoy the ST status with over 500 IAS, IPS and other white-collared job holders. This puts the Gujjars at loggerheads with the Minas.Click here to read more on Rajasthan Assembly Polls 2018.