This time the Dalit groups in Rajasthan have released a “Dalit manifesto”.
Rajasthan Assembly Polls: In the desert state of Rajasthan, 34 out of 200 assembly segments are reserved for the candidates of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and 25 for the Scheduled Tribes (STs). Seven out of 25 Lok Sabha seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. These two reserved categories together account for approximately 32% of the total votes of Rajasthan making it the biggest bloc of votes followed by Jats with 15% votes. While the Dalits account for 17.8% of the state’s population, tribals make up 13.5%. Apart from the 34 reserved seats, there are another 53 seats with a significant number of SC voters. The same is the case with the tribals as they can influence the results in 10 more seats than the reserved. So besides 59 reserved seats, Dalit and Tribal voters can influence 60 more seats.
Traditionally these voters favoured the Congress party till the emergence of the BJP as a strong contender for these votes in the last decade of the 20th century. In the last two Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party swept all the reserved seats of the state with huge margins. But the assembly elections tell a different story. In the year 2018, the BJP could win only 12 seats reserved for Scheduled Caste and 9 ST seats while the Congress won 19 and 16 and three went to independent candidates. But in the 2013 assembly polls, the BJP won 18 and 25 seats while the Congress bagged 16 reserved seats. At that time, the BJP had won 163 seats while the Congress’s tally had plunged to just 21 MLAs in the 200-member Assembly. It tantamounts that whoever wins the maximum number of reserved constituencies will rise to power in the state. That’s why both the political parties are working hard to woo the voters. The Congress government passed a bill to earmark a special amount for the SC and ST development funds. According to The Rajasthan State Scheduled Castes And Scheduled Tribes Development Fund (Planning, Allocation And Utilization Of Financial Resources) Bill, 2022, the state allocates developmental funds for these communities and issues separate orders for the allocation on a year-to-year basis as per their share in the population. The Congress government has increased the allocation in the year 2021-22 to Rs 1.32 lakh crores compared to Rs 1.10 lakh crores in 2020-21. This bill is being seen as Congress’s bid to retain the SC/ST votes that helped it to come to power in 2018.
Another claimant of the Scheduled Caste votes is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati. The BSP secured 4% votes and 6 seats in the year 2018. But the all legislators switched sides and merged with the railing Congress party and repeated the 2008 scene. It makes the voters of BSP disenchanted and confused about the future. The disillusioned voter of the BSP in all possibilities will find their place in the ruling Congress or the BJP. But this time the Bhim Army leader Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan has extended support to Hanuman Beniwal-led RLP. RLP won 2 SC seats in the last elections and BTP, a party formed by the tribals had also won 2 seats in the Mewar region.
But Rajasthan is infamous for being identified as the state with the “second most number of atrocities against the Dalits” as per the data released by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB). According to the figures, the second-highest number of atrocities on Dalits in the country took place in Rajasthan in 2021. Rajasthan was earlier ranked third on this parameter in 2020. To raise this issue, the BJP is raising this matter and protesting after each and every such case of atrocity. The BJP leaders in their political speeches make “atrocities against Dalits” one of the rallying points against the Gehlot-led dispensation.
Despite the high population and influential vote percentage, both major political parties have ignored the Dalit and Tribal leadership in the state. Only one Dalit leader could rise to the highest seat in the state. Jagannath Pahadiya is the only exception from the Congress party to hold the position of state Chief Minister in 1980, only for a year.
This time the Dalit groups in Rajasthan have released a “Dalit manifesto”. The manifesto calls to identify atrocity-prone areas in the newly created districts of the state. In 2018, the poor performance of the BJP can be attributed to the violence during the Bandh called by the SC and ST communities to protest against the Supreme Court order on the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Today, the withdrawal of cases registered during the 2018 agitation is still part of the Dalit agenda. The Dalit agenda also seeks the opening of a Dalit School at the district level.
The BJP this time denied a ticket to the former speaker of Vidhan Sabha and octogenarian, senior Dalit leader Kailash Meghwal from Shahpura who accused his party colleague and union law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal of corruption. Now the question is, will Arjun be able to secure votes in the absence of Kailash for the saffron party to rise the ladder of power? The state will go to polls on 25 November in a single phase.
By Ravindra Singh Sheoran
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