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Rajasthan Elections: Can Caste Census Help Ashok Gehlot Consolidate OBCs?

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot announced a caste census in the state. Can it be a game-changer for the Congress?

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The Ashok Gehlot-led Rajasthan government on 7 October announced that it would be conducting a caste census on the lines of the exercise recently completed by the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar. The announcement came just in time as two days later, on 9 October, the Election Commission announced the schedule for the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, besides Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.

The elections in Rajasthan have been advanced by two weeks compared to 2018. The polling had taken place on 7 December in 2018, this time it will be on 23 November.

Coming back to the caste census, will it have an impact in the elections? Can it help Gehlot?

There are four aspects to this.

Rajasthan Elections: Can Caste Census Help Ashok Gehlot Consolidate OBCs?

  1. 1. Caste Arithmetic in Rajasthan

    According to the 2011 census, Dalits account for 17.8 percent of Rajasthan's population and Adivasis are 13.5 percent. Since there has been no caste census in Rajasthan, OBC and dominant caste population can be estimated mainly through sample-based surveys.

    Going by CSDS surveys for the 2013 and 2018 elections, OBCs are roughly 35-40 percent of Rajasthan's population and Upper Castes are a little above 20 percent.

    The numerically strongest community in Rajasthan are said to be Jats at about 10-12 percent. Jats, except those from certain pockets, come under the OBC category.

    Among other OBCs, Gujjars are said to be roughly 6 percent, Yadavs 3 percent and Mali/Saini about 2.5 percent.

    The biggest community among those who would be considered EBC in Bihar, are Kumhars at 3-4 percent.

    The Jatav group of Dalits, which includes Meghwal and Bairwa sub-groups - are at around 9-10 percent, making them about 50 percent of the overall Dalit population.

    Rajputs are said to be around 9 percent and Brahmins are about 6 percent and together they account for the majority of dominant castes.

    Within STs, Meenas and Bhils are said to account for about 50 and 40 percent of the overall tribal population respectively. Their share of the overall population would be 6.5 percent and 5 percent respectively.

    Muslims are 9 percent of Rajasthan's population, about half of these are said to be so-called upper caste Muslims.

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  2. 2. Who Stand to Gain from the Caste Census?

    • Rajasthan had 16 percent reservation for SCs, 12 percent for STs and 21 percent for OBCs.

    • Then the Union government added the Economically Weaker Sections quota for the poor within Upper Castes - 10 percent.

    • In 2019, the Gehlot government gave 5 percent reservation to four castes under the Most Backward Castes category: Gujjars, Banjaras, Gadia Lohars, Raikas and Gadarias.

    • Then in August 2023, the government gave MBCs reservation of 6%.

    • As a result the total quantum of reservation in Rajasthans stands at 70 percent, including the 10 percent EWS quota.

    After a caste census, the major scope for increase could be among OBCs as the SC and ST reservation is reasonably equal to their share in population. The main gainers especially if there is sub-categorisation would be relatively non-dominant OBC groups like Gujjar, Saini, Kumhar, Gadaria, Badhai etc.
    • Together, non-Jat OBCs account for a little over 20 percent of the population and these would be the main target group for the Congress politically.

    Expand
  3. 3. Why Rajasthan's Caste Dynamics Are Different

    Rajasthan doesn't have a strong history of social justice-based politics like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra. The state does have a history of peasant resistance, with both Shekhawati and Mewar regions seeing anti-feudal movements in the 1920s.

    In Shekhawati and to some extent Marwar, but not Mewar, anti-feudal politics was dominated by the Jat community.

    This shaped post-Independence politics in Rajasthan. As Rajputs felt that their interests aren't being protected by the Congress, a sizable section among them supported the Ram Rajya Parishad and Jan Sangh, the precursor to the BJP. RRP subsequently merged into the Jan Sangh, making Rajputs one of the earliest vote banks of the Jan Sangh and later the BJP.

    Jats on the other hand rallied behind the Congress and in some pockets, the Left.

    Jats' began shifting away from the Congress began after the rise of Ashok Gehlot 1998 onwards. A number of senior Jat leaders are said to have been sidelined by Gehlot. Around the same time another major development took place.

    In 1999, the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government at the Centre included the Jats of Rajasthan in the central list of OBCs, except Jats from Bharatpur and Dhaulpur, both of which used to be Jat principalities. The state government, then led by Gehlot, followed suit but it is the BJP that got credit for initiating the move.

    This period also coincided with the rise of Vasundhara Raje within the BJP. As a Kshatriya married into a Jat royal family, Raje's leadership added to BJP's efforts to win over Jats without antagonising Rajputs. However, though the BJP gained among Jats, the Congress retained a sizable chunk as well.

    Another churn among Jats took place after Hanuman Beniwal split away from the BJP in 2013, due to differences with Vasundhara Raje. He formed the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party in 2018, which has emerged as a major claimant for Jat votes in Shekhawati and Marwar.

    While Jat support for the Congress reduced under Gehlot, the main base of the Congress has been Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, his own Mali/Saini community. The party does get some Upper Caste support too, especially among Brahmins due to the presence of important Brahmin faces.

    Expand
  4. 4. Can it Work?

    Ashok Gehlot's arithmetic would essentially depend on consolidating Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim and non-dominant OBC votes and a sizable chunk of Jat votes.

    This is possible but not without its challenges.

    For instance, the biggest non-Jat OBC community are Gujjars. But Gujjars have been miffed with the Congress due to Gehlot's sidelining of Sachin Pilot, an important Gujjar face, as well as their competition with the ST Meena community that has traditionally sided with the Congress.

    Ground reports suggest that there is a clear shift of dominant castes towards the BJP and the announcement of the caste census is only likely to intensify this.

    Last time the Congress has made inroads among Rajputs due to their anger over the encounter of Ravana Rajput gangster Anandpal Singh. That is no longer an issue and the BJP is likely to reclaim those votes. Though in certain pockets that Congress has tried to pitch Brahmins against the BJP, the case census card is likely to push this section towards BJP again.

    Among Meghwal voters, there is some resentment towards the Congress due to atrocities like the killing of Inder Meghwal in Jalore.

    Then among Jats, the Congress will have to contend with both the BJP as well as RLP though the party has tried to appease the community by appointing a Jat as state unit president.

    A lot would depend on how the Congress convinces different caste bodies that the census works to their advantage and that it could be jeopardised if the BJP comes to power.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Caste Arithmetic in Rajasthan

According to the 2011 census, Dalits account for 17.8 percent of Rajasthan's population and Adivasis are 13.5 percent. Since there has been no caste census in Rajasthan, OBC and dominant caste population can be estimated mainly through sample-based surveys.

Going by CSDS surveys for the 2013 and 2018 elections, OBCs are roughly 35-40 percent of Rajasthan's population and Upper Castes are a little above 20 percent.

The numerically strongest community in Rajasthan are said to be Jats at about 10-12 percent. Jats, except those from certain pockets, come under the OBC category.

Among other OBCs, Gujjars are said to be roughly 6 percent, Yadavs 3 percent and Mali/Saini about 2.5 percent.

The biggest community among those who would be considered EBC in Bihar, are Kumhars at 3-4 percent.

The Jatav group of Dalits, which includes Meghwal and Bairwa sub-groups - are at around 9-10 percent, making them about 50 percent of the overall Dalit population.

Rajputs are said to be around 9 percent and Brahmins are about 6 percent and together they account for the majority of dominant castes.

Within STs, Meenas and Bhils are said to account for about 50 and 40 percent of the overall tribal population respectively. Their share of the overall population would be 6.5 percent and 5 percent respectively.

Muslims are 9 percent of Rajasthan's population, about half of these are said to be so-called upper caste Muslims.

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Who Stand to Gain from the Caste Census?

  • Rajasthan had 16 percent reservation for SCs, 12 percent for STs and 21 percent for OBCs.

  • Then the Union government added the Economically Weaker Sections quota for the poor within Upper Castes - 10 percent.

  • In 2019, the Gehlot government gave 5 percent reservation to four castes under the Most Backward Castes category: Gujjars, Banjaras, Gadia Lohars, Raikas and Gadarias.

  • Then in August 2023, the government gave MBCs reservation of 6%.

  • As a result the total quantum of reservation in Rajasthans stands at 70 percent, including the 10 percent EWS quota.

After a caste census, the major scope for increase could be among OBCs as the SC and ST reservation is reasonably equal to their share in population. The main gainers especially if there is sub-categorisation would be relatively non-dominant OBC groups like Gujjar, Saini, Kumhar, Gadaria, Badhai etc.
  • Together, non-Jat OBCs account for a little over 20 percent of the population and these would be the main target group for the Congress politically.

0

Why Rajasthan's Caste Dynamics Are Different

Rajasthan doesn't have a strong history of social justice-based politics like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra. The state does have a history of peasant resistance, with both Shekhawati and Mewar regions seeing anti-feudal movements in the 1920s.

In Shekhawati and to some extent Marwar, but not Mewar, anti-feudal politics was dominated by the Jat community.

This shaped post-Independence politics in Rajasthan. As Rajputs felt that their interests aren't being protected by the Congress, a sizable section among them supported the Ram Rajya Parishad and Jan Sangh, the precursor to the BJP. RRP subsequently merged into the Jan Sangh, making Rajputs one of the earliest vote banks of the Jan Sangh and later the BJP.

Jats on the other hand rallied behind the Congress and in some pockets, the Left.

Jats' began shifting away from the Congress began after the rise of Ashok Gehlot 1998 onwards. A number of senior Jat leaders are said to have been sidelined by Gehlot. Around the same time another major development took place.

In 1999, the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government at the Centre included the Jats of Rajasthan in the central list of OBCs, except Jats from Bharatpur and Dhaulpur, both of which used to be Jat principalities. The state government, then led by Gehlot, followed suit but it is the BJP that got credit for initiating the move.

This period also coincided with the rise of Vasundhara Raje within the BJP. As a Kshatriya married into a Jat royal family, Raje's leadership added to BJP's efforts to win over Jats without antagonising Rajputs. However, though the BJP gained among Jats, the Congress retained a sizable chunk as well.

Another churn among Jats took place after Hanuman Beniwal split away from the BJP in 2013, due to differences with Vasundhara Raje. He formed the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party in 2018, which has emerged as a major claimant for Jat votes in Shekhawati and Marwar.

While Jat support for the Congress reduced under Gehlot, the main base of the Congress has been Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, his own Mali/Saini community. The party does get some Upper Caste support too, especially among Brahmins due to the presence of important Brahmin faces.

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Can it Work?

Ashok Gehlot's arithmetic would essentially depend on consolidating Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim and non-dominant OBC votes and a sizable chunk of Jat votes.

This is possible but not without its challenges.

For instance, the biggest non-Jat OBC community are Gujjars. But Gujjars have been miffed with the Congress due to Gehlot's sidelining of Sachin Pilot, an important Gujjar face, as well as their competition with the ST Meena community that has traditionally sided with the Congress.

Ground reports suggest that there is a clear shift of dominant castes towards the BJP and the announcement of the caste census is only likely to intensify this.

Last time the Congress has made inroads among Rajputs due to their anger over the encounter of Ravana Rajput gangster Anandpal Singh. That is no longer an issue and the BJP is likely to reclaim those votes. Though in certain pockets that Congress has tried to pitch Brahmins against the BJP, the case census card is likely to push this section towards BJP again.

Among Meghwal voters, there is some resentment towards the Congress due to atrocities like the killing of Inder Meghwal in Jalore.

Then among Jats, the Congress will have to contend with both the BJP as well as RLP though the party has tried to appease the community by appointing a Jat as state unit president.

A lot would depend on how the Congress convinces different caste bodies that the census works to their advantage and that it could be jeopardised if the BJP comes to power.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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