Social violence is not new to Rajasthan. The only impact modernity seems to have made on this deeply feudal state is that violence earlier was more purely gender-discriminatory, not community-centred. Now violence as an instrument of control has turned outward, with Muslims and Dalits as targets. Self-appointed ‘social police’, lumpen fashioning themselves as gau rakshaks and reverse love jihadis, have been gleefully unleashing hitherto unheard-of levels of brutality. Could this have led to the Congress sweep in the latest bypolls?
Perhaps social strife, however unsettling, can only be a contributory factor, creating the opposite of the sense of well-being that enables pro-incumbency feelings. So though one minister in the Vasundhara Raje Cabinet blamed the Bhansali film for the BJP debacle, supposed Rajput anger can only have added a final coating over a tapestry of disaffection emanating from more core reasons: the lawlessness adding on to the stress of having to live in times of a tangible economic downturn, with an acute farm crisis its dismal showpiece.
Anyway, the Congress swept the three seats (one Assembly and two Lok Sabha) despite party rebels muddying the pitch—and that showed the public mood. For once, it had a young leader in Sachin Pilot, with an earnest ambition to wrest the state back, working hard at the grassroots. The damage its notorious infighting usually inflicts on the party too seems to have been minimal. The rank and file, which played a stellar role in the Gujarat elections under pointsman Ashok Gehlot, seemed to have had a sense of purpose. But the BJP is not a party that takes a defeat lying down.
The Budget was a first step by the Centre towards wooing rural India. Modi will have to resurrect the ethos of Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas after some of his foot soldiers hijacked the mandate to make it all about a dark, avenging force on a rampage. The Congress, meanwhile, is prone to resting on its laurels. A near-win in Gujarat and a handful of bypolls are positive signposts—on a road that stretches long, long ahead.