As protests against the three farm laws have spread across several districts of Rajasthan where kisan mahapanchayats are being organised, political parties are eying to increase their support base among the Jat community, which constitutes the largest population among the farming class in the state.
Traditionally voters of the Congress party, the Jat community’s shifting support to the BJP in recent years has been instrumental in helping the saffron party win elections.
Back in 2019, the BJP and its allies had won all 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan, including areas such as the Shekhawati region comprising districts such as Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Churu and other bastions of Jat politics like Nagaur district.
Now, both the ruling Congress as well as other parties such as the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP), which broke away from the NDA in protest of the three farm laws, are hoping to increase its support of the Jats.
At present both the Congress and the BJP have state presidents who belong to the Jat community. The community, considered as the largest electoral demographic, is estimated to account for more than 15 per cent of the state’s population, more than the number of other communities such as Rajputs, Gujjars and Meenas.
“The BJP has lost the support of the Jat community, which is almost totally dependent on farming. The farmer protests across the country are similar to that of the JP movement or the Anna Hazare protest, where governments of the day became hollow from inside after the protests. During recent rallies of Rahul Gandhi ji, more than a lakh people turned up in Nagaur. This was when there is no election. From this you can understand the level of anger among the people against the BJP,” Rajasthan Congress president and state education minister Govind Singh Dotasra told The Indian Express.
Dotasra, a Jat leader himself, said that the Congress would continue to organise rallies and programmes against the three laws.
“The Congress is with every community. The farm protests are the death knell for the BJP government. We will continue to raise the voice of people through more protest rallies against the farm laws,” he said.
During his recent visit to Rajasthan, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi also visited the temple of Veer Tejaji — a folk deity hugely respected by the Jat community — in Sursura, Ajmer. Party insiders say that this move was also aimed to woo the community.
According to the claims of politicians such as former MP Subhash Maharia, who lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Sikar parliamentary constituency on Congress ticket, the protests against the farm laws will change the political equations in districts such as Sikar, considered the heart of the Jat populated Shekhawati region.
While the Congress had won the maximum number of districts in the Shekhawati region during the 2018 Assembly elections, months later, the BJP had swept the state during the Lok Sabha elections, wherein senior leaders such as Maharia had to taste defeat.
“The three farm laws will have far-reaching consequences and the livelihood of farmers will suffer. Nobody can imagine the angst within the country at present. During my visits to villages in Shekhawati I saw that there is widespread discontent among the farming population against the laws,” quips Maharia, who says that he is taking part in protests and organising rallies against the laws along with the Samyukta Kisan Morcha.
While Raja Ram Meel, president of the Jat Mahasabha says that any votes of the community lost by the BJP will benefit the Congress, Nagaur MP and RLP chief Hanuman Beniwal, who is among the most prominent Jat leaders from the state, says that neither the Congress nor the BJP will benefit from the dissatisfaction among the Jats over the farm laws.
“The Jat community will now cast its vote against the BJP. But the Congress will not get its benefit. Third forces and regional parties such as the RLP will gain from this because we have consistently raised issues of farmers and have also broken away from the NDA in protest of the farm laws. We also organised huge protests and jammed highways. Farmers know that the BJP is not taking back the laws but they also know that the Congress is playing politics over the issue,” said Beniwal.
He added that the Jat community influences a huge chunk of the Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies in Rajasthan.
“In 70 Assembly seats in Rajasthan, Jat votes count between 60,000 and 1 lakh and the community influences 120 seats along with 19 Lok Sabha constituencies,” said Beniwal.
The BJP dismissed notions that the farm protests will dent its support base among Jats in Rajasthan.
“Had the Jats been with Congress, then they wouldn’t have left the party. Ever since former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave the Jats reservation, the community has received maximum benefits of welfare schemes aimed at farmers during BJP regimes. They (Congress) are trying to spread propaganda in which they won’t be successful,” state BJP president Satish Poonia told The Indian Express.
He added that third forces have never succeeded in Rajasthan and the farmer protests won’t affect the BJP’s fortunes.
“Third fronts have never succeeded in Rajasthan and neither will they ever. Regional parties are not a factor in Rajasthan. The farmer protests are happening in a limited area and that too is sponsored which is now being exposed. They won’t have any bearings on the BJP’s fortunes in future elections,” said Poonia.