DAUSA/BHARATPUR/ALWAR/KARAULI-DHOLPUR : It is 3:24 pm and a group of old men are playing ‘choupad pasa’ (ancient chess), unmindful of the blazing 41 degrees outside in Ganeshpura village of Rajasthan’s Dausa constituency. It’s a largely upper caste gathering, but there are three SC/ST men, too. The reference to politics suddenly changes the mood and an animated argument on the Modi government’s promises and performance ensues. The upper caste men swear by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his “commendable work” and cite Ujjwala and Swacch Bharat schemes. They also point to the cemented roads and electricity poles outside as examples of the development work done in Rajasthan.
But 70-year-old Bhagirath Mal, a Dalit, strongly protests. He believes the BJP has pushed the country back by decades and that caste hatred towards Dalits and minorities have increased. Mal, who holds a BSc. degree and was once a public servant, is not allowed to finish his argument. He is labelled a “Pakistani” and “junglee” by his fellow players. He finds no support but claims that had a farmer been around, he would have exposed the BJP’s lies.
Mal lives in a Dalit colony, 10 minutes’ walk away, where broken roads and open drainage are telltale signs that the Swachh scheme hasn’t reached.In the eastern belt of Rajasthan which comprises the reserved seats of Dausa (ST), Karauli-Dholpur (SC), Bharatpur (SC) and the communally sensitive constituency of Alwar, Mal’s sentiments are shared by many from the SC, ST and Muslim communities.
Caste dynamics is crucial in the eastern belt. With SC/ST people angry with the BJP government and farmers dissatisfied over crop insurance and demonetisation, the Congress seems to have an edge. Not all from these communities are disgruntled, though. Some, especially youths, are in awe of the PM for “teaching Pakistan a lesson with the Balakot airstrikes”. However, most are upset that the government did not react in time when the Supreme Court “diluted” The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The caste equation seems to be working in favour of the Congress. In Dausa, people still recall the work done by Congress leader Rajesh Pilot, which he and his family represented for years in Parliament. In Khuri Kalan, Ram Krishan Gujjar, a farmer says, “I voted for BJP in 2014, but Modi is a jumlebaaz. Rajesh Pilot and his family built roads, schools and colleges here. The BJP did nothing; Modi ruined our lives with demonetisation.”
Both BJP and Congress candidates are women and from the ST Meena community. Infighting in the BJP, with Kirodi Lal Meena opposing the party candidate, could also benefit the rival candidate. Meena is upset that his wife was denied a BJP ticket. Many say he is working to defeat the party not only in Dausa, but also in adjacent Karauli-Dholpur.
In Bari town of Dholpur, a gathering at a tea stall discusses GST, demonetization and price rise, but at the same time wonders if there is any better candidate for PM’s post than Modi. “Unemployment has increased in five years. We should vote on the basis of our candidate. Our MP Manoj Rajoria never did anything for the constituency. Modi destroyed the economy and is now seeking votes by dividing the nation,” says government school teacher Hari Singh Meena. “How can you forget that it is Modi who taught Pakistan a lesson?” counters 27-year-old bank employee Sanjay Sahdawa.
The constituency where the BJP seems to have an edge is Bharatpur, where the “Modi factor” has played out well and BJP’s nationalism plank has impressed people, irrespective of their backgrounds. There appears to be no mobilisation of SC-ST either, unlike the other seats. In Deeg village, Bhima Devi, a Dalit, says, “Modi ji built toilets and gave gas connections in the village. Unemployment has increased but there is no better option.”
In Alwar, there is a triangular contest between, with the BSP, which has fielded a Muslim candidate, also in the race. Polarisation seems to be the main factor here which has seen a lot of cow-related violence targeting Muslims, who are in sizeable numbers.