Shri Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena at a press conference in December 2017 on issues such as the encounter of gangster Anandpal Singh. (File)
Three-time chief minister of Rajasthan and eleventh Vice-President of India, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had covered a substantial part of his campaign on camelback before he was elected to the Assembly in Rajasthan’s first elections in 1952 from Danta-Ramgarh constituency.
Eight years after the death of the stalwart Rajput leader, several leaders within the BJP feel that though Shekhawat’s legacy remains unparalleled, the party itself has changed. And if leaders from various Rajput outfits are to be believed, this year’s Assembly elections could well end the epoch that Shekhawat began by cementing the community as the sole and principal vote bank of the BJP in Rajasthan.
In fact, brewing discontent among the community with the incumbent government in the state could thwart the BJP’s dream to return for a second term. Issues such as the gangster Anandpal Singh encounter, sidelining of former Union minister and Rajput leader Jaswant Singh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections — his son Manvendra recently joined the Congress — have reportedly left several Rajput groups angry with the BJP.
Rajputs form an estimated 12 per cent population in Rajasthan.
“The time of Shekhawat is long forgotten and the people, who are currently in the government, don’t spare much thought for the Rajput community and instead give statements undermining the community’s social organisations. It was because of this that the BJP lost the bypolls so badly,” Giriraj Singh Lotwara, president of Shree Rajput Sabha, told The Indian Express.
The Sabha was among the Rajput outfits which started the ‘Kamal ka phool, hamaari bhool (Lotus flower is our mistake)’ campaign before the by-elections earlier this year. The BJP eventually lost in all the two parliamentary seats and one Assembly constituency in which elections were held.
“Once you enjoy the fruits of power and forget your past, you believe you are above the world. This was the first time the Rajput Sabha was raided during this government’s regime. Shekhawat’s government was connected to the grassroots, while this government is being run from palaces,” said Lotwara.
The Shekhawat government had launched Antyodaya Yojana for poverty alleviation, rural development and electrification of rural households, which made him a favourite of people, irrespective of caste and religious identities.
“After Shekhawat, the internal democracy in the party has been reduced to such a level that these days even election surveys are manipulated to make people hear what they want to hear. But you can’t close your eyes to reality,” a senior BJP leader.
Local BJP leaders also claim that parachuting Congress turncoats and people from opposite ideologies in recent years have left many party members from the time of Shekhawat dissatisfied. “From cadre strength, we have veered towards hired strength by inducting leaders from other parties such as Congress for the sake of winning. This has left BJP ground-level workers disillusioned,” the BJP leader said.
People close to Shekhawat said that it was his clean image of a statesman that helped the party to expand in the state during the 1980s and 90s. “His legacy is like treading on a thin wire from a very high altitude – you will have forces of wind and gravity working against you – and he finished his journey with flying colours. His political journey could be described as someone working at a coal mine, but not letting dirt touch his clothes,” Narpat Singh Rajvi, son-in-law of Shekhawat and incumbent BJP MLA from Vidhyadhar Nagar, told The Indian Express.
Even Congress leaders, including former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, have accused the current Vasundhara Raje-led government in the state of “sidelining” Shekhawat and his legacy.
“The politics of Shekhawat was much more than the politics of the BJP. He was never in agreement with the radical ideology of the BJP and RSS. He was a uniting figure, liked by people from all castes. The current leadership in the BJP is completely opposite to the personality of Shekhawat,” Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, Jaipur district Congress president and nephew of Shekhawat, said.
Khachariyawas claimed that it is because of its arrogance that the BJP will lose badly in Rajasthan in the December 7 elections.