Mohammed Iqbal

BHARATPUR: The profound psychological scars left by the brutal massacre of Dalits in Kumher 16 years ago and the resentment of Dalits against the social hierarchy shaped by numerically and socially dominant Jats are set to make an impact on the outcome of Rajasthan Assembly elections in Bharatpur district lying on the eastern fringe of this vast desert State.

The entry of the scion of the erstwhile royal family, Vishwendra Singh – till recently the political adviser to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje – into the high-profile race after crossing over to the Congress has enraged Jatavs of Kumher who have been nursing the wound in their hearts against the former Jat rulers.

Kumher town and a few of its surrounding villages were the scene of a violent attack by a section of the Jat community against the Scheduled Caste Jatavs in the first week of June 1992. The violence and arson left 16 Dalits dead and hundreds injured and caused extensive damage, looting and destruction of property.

With successive governments in the State having failed to render justice to the victims despite a judicial inquiry indicting the administration, Jatavs have been trying to pool their votes to give a political riposte to Jats. They accuse the erstwhile royal family of not making any attempt to resolve differences between the two sides.

“Jatavs in Deeg-Kumher constituency have decided to vote en bloc for the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate and Industries Minister Digambar Singh. The reason is that among all nominees, he alone is capable of defeating Mr. Vishwendra Singh,” Dalit leader and former Councillor Mohan Singh told The Hindu at Kumher.

As the Bahujan Samaj Party has also fielded a Jat, Amar Singh, as its candidate in the Assembly segment, Dalits have a limited choice in the polling. Mr. Mohan Singh said the elections in any case were not going to soften the opposition of higher castes to Dalits’ attempt to rise in social hierarchy commensurate with their economic status.

In both the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, caste has been playing a major role as a factor overriding the development issues in Bharatpur district. The higher caste oppression takes various shapes such as the use of exclusive wells, control over common lands, prohibition on adopting “respectable” social practices and the demand that Dalits show subservience.

Mr. Vishwendra Singh’s supporters, on the other hand, affirm that the erstwhile ruler is accessible to people and has always come to the help of the rural populace in the moments of need. “Maharaja Saheb rendered assistance to villagers affected by drought and made contributions to Krishi Upaj Mandi,” said Chandan Singh, Sarpanch of Girsa-Khori village.

However, Jat votes are likely to split in Deeg-Kumher with the candidates of the three major parties belonging to the same community. Dr. Digambar Singh of BJP enjoys a degree of local support because of his development works as a Minister.

The Gujjar heartland of Nagar is set to witness an interesting battle with the Congress giving its ticket to expelled BJP MLA Atar Singh Bhadana as a replacement for Mahir Azad, a two-time winner who has shifted to Jaipur. Mr. Bhadana, along with the firebrand Gujjar leader Prahlad Gunjal, had revolted against the police firing on Gujjars agitating for reservation a few months ago.

Gujjar leader Anita fielded by the BJP from Nagar does not enjoy the support of chief architect of the quota stir, Kirori Singh Bainsla. Gujjars also have a significant presence in the reserved constituency of Bayana, where Gyarsaram Koli of BJP is pitted against Nirbhaylal Jatav of Congress.

In Kaman, Congress candidate Zahida – daughter of the late Meo leader Tayyab Hussain – faces the influential BSP nominee Madan Mohan. The BJP seems to have consciously decided to give ticket to a minority candidate, Nasru Khan, to offset the “sympathy votes” likely to be cast in favour of Ms. Zahida because of her father.

The BJP activists in Bharatpur city are wary of the post-poll moves of their party candidate, Vijay Bansal, who has been a close ally of Mr. Vishwendra Singh. He won the 2003 Rajasthan Assembly polls on the Indian National Lok Dal ticket.

The Congress and BSP candidates in the constituency are Dharmendra Sharma and Aditya Raj Sharma, respectively.

A cross-section of voters in the district, bordering Uttar Pradesh, feel that that issues such as shortage of water supply from Gambhiri, Barah and Banganga rivers for mustard crop, closure of oil and pulses industries, filth in Sujanganga Canal and impediments to water supply from Panchana dam to Ghana birds sanctuary have been pushed to the background by the caste equations dominating the political scenario.