The general response in Rajasthan to the arrest of Bharatiya Janata Party chief whip and former minister Rajendra Singh Rathore for his alleged involvement in the Dara Singh encounter killing case has been both political and caste-based.
Mr. Rathore was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation on Thursday.
While the BJP termed it an attempt to settle political scores through the “misuse” of the CBI, the ruling Congress, which initially kept silent, shot back later.
Mr. Rathore, a five-time MLA from Tara Nagar in Churu, has developed an image of Rajput leader over the period. It was thus not surprising that the State's Jat population, smarting under the arrest of prominent Jat leader Mahipal Maderna in the Bhawnari Devi murder case, found it only proper that Mr. Rathore also goes to jail.
It was an expected reaction since victim Dara Singh, who was killed on October 23, 2006 in an encounter by the Special Operations Group of the Rajasthan police, was a Jat.
Among the youths who took to the streets after Mr. Rathore's arrest, were the members of the Karni Sena — an organisation of the Rajput community. Members of Pratap Foundation, an apex outfit of the Rajput community, were also present among the marchers who had joined Mr. Rathore in a procession to the CBI local office.
Mr. Rathore, who was elected the president of the Rajasthan University Students Union in 1978, started politics with the Janata Party. In those days, he led the militant transporters' union in Jaipur and was in the liquor business as well. He was a minister in former Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat's government. He held the powerful Public Works Department portfolio during the previous BJP government and enjoys former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje's confidence.
The fractured State BJP was found united in its support for Mr. Rathore on Friday though the leaders who rallied behind him had their individual reasons for doing so. While some wanted to please Ms. Raje, others did it as the occasion needed a show of strength.
Then there is the fear factor as well in the reactions to the arrest. The Home portfolio was looked after Gulab Chand Kataria at the time of the encounter. While none has pointed fingers at him yet in this case, there were reports about his alleged involvement in the Shahabuddin Shaikh encounter killing in 2005 for which several Gujarat and the Rajasthan cadre police officials are currently in jail. There is also the issue of the moral responsibility of the Chief Minister at the time of the encounter.
Former BJP leader and now Independent MP from Dausa, Kirorilal Meena, is of the view that without the concurrence of the Chief Minister, a Cabinet Minister could not have directed the police officers to carry out such an act. “In the Dara Singh encounter, the CBI should question the former Chief Minister, the then Director General and the then Principal Secretary of the Chief Minister,” said Dr. Meena.
Rajasthan Congress president Chandra Bhan hinted at many more BJP leaders following Mr. Rathore to jail.
The reaction from Ms. Raje — the government is misusing the CBI to meet political ends; Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot did it to hide his failures in governance; the government action amounted to pitting one caste against the other —provoked Mr. Gehlot to react.
“I feel greatly pained at her comments,” he said, pointing out that the CBI had complained to the Supreme Court a year back against the ‘non-cooperation” of the Rajasthan government in the Dara Singh case enquiry. It was Ms. Raje who was inciting the passion of communities, he alleged.
“In my public career, I have always taken the stand that in matters of crime the law will take its course, and I stand by that. My consolation is that people of this State understand my thought processes,” he added.