Operation Ganga Jal: With the Jats Revolting, Is BJP in Deep Water in Rajasthan?

The demand for OBC reservations for the Jats of East Rajasthan's Bharatpur and Dholpur is a long-pending one.

5 min read

Quota agitations have invariably been one of the most contentious issues in Indian politics. Inevitably, movements around reservation claims often play a crucial role in shaping electoral outcomes. Not surprisingly, as Lok Sabha polls draw ever closer, the demand for OBC (Other Backward Classes) reservations by the Jat community in Bharatpur and Dholpur districts has emerged as a potent force in East Rajasthan's electoral dynamics.

The Jats of Bharatpur and Dholpur have been protesting since January to press for their inclusion in the central OBC list but with the "Double Engine Sarkar" of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre and in the state taking no positive action despite promising to do so, the Jats now feel mighty betrayed.

With elections barely a fortnight away in Rajasthan, all parties are fine-tuning their caste arithmetic – and the Jats figure prominently in these calculations. But with a large chunk of the community opposing the BJP with Ganga Jal oaths, the Saffron brigade’s task has turned tougher in East Rajasthan.

Discrimination Against the Jats on Reservation Grounds

In recent weeks, they have started a special campaign called "Operation Gangajal" against the BJP in villages of East Rajasthan which cover three crucial Lok Sabha seats – Bharatpur, Karauli-Dholpur, and Alwar. Under this campaign, Jat leaders are holding special meetings in countless villages where they urge everyone to take oath on Ganga Jal (holy water from the Ganges) not to vote for the BJP.

The demand for OBC reservations for the Jats of Bharatpur and Dholpur is a long-pending one. Though the Jats got the OBC status in 1999, in these two districts, the community was denied quota benefits on the plea that they were the erstwhile rulers in these areas and hence, too well off to deserve affirmative action.

The city of Bharatpur was founded by Maharaja Surajmal – a Jat ruler of the 17th century and his successors ruled the area till 1947 when princely states were merged with the Union of India. Likewise, the Dholpur kingdom was founded by Jat rulers in the 18th century – and Vasundhara Raje, the ex-CM of Rajasthan, is a member of the former royal family of Dholpur.

Given this denial, the largely agrarian Jat community of Bharatpur and Dholpur has often agitated for inclusion in the OBC category. They argue that given their socio-economic backwardness, it’s a grave injustice to deny them OBC quotas. Though the denial at the state level ended soon, the Jats of both districts continued being excluded at the central level.


SC Judgment on the Jats Stripped Them of OBC Benefits

Ultimately, in 2013, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Manmohan Singh granted OBC reservations at the central level to the Jats in Bharatpur and Dholpur.

However, their joy was short-lived as in 2015, the Supreme Court decided to take Jats off the central OBC list. Though former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot wrote a letter to the central government in 2021 seeking OBC quotas for Jats in both districts, the BJP government at the Centre has failed to provide this crucial reservation.

Resultantly, Jats of both these districts don’t get the benefit of OBC quotas under the central government that their community enjoys in other parts of Rajasthan.

Once the BJP returned to power in Rajasthan last December, Jats sat on a Mahapadav, an indefinite dharna, at a Bharatpur village in January to press their demands. After a few weeks, they lifted the siege on the assurance of positive action by the new BJP CM Bhajan Lal Sharma who also belongs to Bharatpur.

Though a special committee was formed and the Jat leaders even held discussions with central ministers, no tangible progress has yet been made and the angry Jats in this region now accuse the BJP of betraying its promises.

Jats’ Anti-BJP Campaign Gains Momentum

As the Jats did not get reservation before the Model Code of Conduct for the Lok Sabha polls kicked in, the Bharatpur-Dholpur Jat Reservation Sangharsh Samiti held a special meeting in mid-March which saw huge participation of Panch Patels from across East Rajasthan.

The gathering decided to start "Operation Gangajal" to defeat the BJP in the upcoming elections.

Accusing the saffron brigade of deceiving the Jats, representatives from all the eight assembly seats of Bharatpur as well as leaders from other castes, decided at this meeting to expand their campaign to cover not just Bharatpur but also Karauli-Dholpur and Alwar Lok Sabha seats to weaken the BJP's prospects in all three constituencies.

To intensify "Operation Gangajal", the Jats have formed an apex committee of over 300 dedicated members and set up 11-member committees at all Panchayat headquarters. These committees are canvassing in villages across this region to persuade voters to oppose the BJP.

As members of the Jat Reservation Sangharsh Samiti visit countless villages/ households, they ask people to NOT vote for the BJP for betraying the Jats of Bharatpur-Dholpur over OBC quotas.

In a remarkable grassroots effort, leaders of the Jat Reservation Sangharsh Samiti are holding large scale Panchayat gatherings where voters take solemn oaths with Ganga Jal to oppose the BJP. To mobilise public support, thousands of posters and banners have been put up in Bharatpur and adjoining districts with a clear message: “Jats have been cheated by BJP in the name of reservation. This time BJP has to be defeated by the power of votes.”


Symbolic Protests Mark the Prestige Battle Between the Jats and the BJP

In election season, Jat leaders are clearly resorting to symbolic acts steeped in religious significance. Taking oaths with Ganga Jal, considered sacred in Hindu tradition, has become a powerful tool of protest.

By imbuing their quota agitation with religious symbolism, Jat leaders are galvanising their own community and mobilising support from the larger society which may dent BJP prospects.

As "Operation Gangajal" gathers momentum, it presents a special challenge for Rajasthan CM Bhajan Lal. Since it’s his hometown, the Bharatpur Lok Sabha seat holds huge political significance as Bhajan Lal cannot risk a setback on his home turf where the Congress drew a blank in the last Assembly elections.

Though it's an SC seat after the delimitation changes of 2008, Bharatpur has traditionally been a Jat-dominated constituency where the community forms the largest vote bank and usually exerts a decisive sway over electoral fortunes. No wonder, Congress candidate Sanjana Jatav has expressed full solidarity with the Jat cause and the party hopes to upset the BJP in the prestige battle in Bharatpur.

Beyond Bharatpur, "Operation Gangajal" could also impact the Karauli-Dholpur seat which too has a huge proportion of Jat voters. While the BJP won this SC seat in the past two Lok Sabha polls, Congress is more hopeful here as it currently holds 5 of the 8 Assembly seats that come under this constituency.

This agitation could also have a major bearing on the poll battle in Alwar where Union Minister Bhupendra Yadav of the BJP is fighting Lalit Yadav of the Congress in his maiden Lok Sabha election. But as the Jats intensify this operation in villages bordering Bharatpur, his debut in the Lok Sabha now faces major complications.

Given the anti-incumbency against its sitting MPs, the BJP has fielded new candidates in these three seats but the Jat resentment now poses a special hurdle for the BJP.

As if now, it’s unclear how deep will be the impact of this novel campaign but "Operation Gangajal" has clearly become one of the most fascinating facets of the Lok Sabha battle in Rajasthan!

(The author is a veteran journalist and expert on Rajasthan politics. Besides serving as a Resident Editor at NDTV, he has been a Professor of Journalism at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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