Jaipur: Influential Jat leader and a three-time MLA from Khinvsar, Hanuman Beniwal formed an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. This has come as a surprise for many, especially since local media reports have constantly vouched for his association with the Congress party.
According to sources, Beniwal had been negotiation with the Congress about contesting from the Nagaur constituency. However, after the party issued a ticket to Jyoti Mirdha, Beniwal joined hands with the BJP.
Last year, Beniwal’s newly-formed Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLTP) displayed a terrific performance in its maiden election. It contested on 58 assembly seats in 19 districts of the state and won three. In the Marwar region of Rajasthan – Barmer, Nagaur, Jodhpur, Pali and parts of Sikar –which has a sizeable Jat population, the party secured the third position in most of the seats it contested.
In chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s bastion Jodhpur, RLTP won the Bhopalgarh seat and stood third in Bilara, Luni and Shergarh seats. In Barmer, it was the runner-up in the Baytoo seat and secured the third position in four seats – Chohtan, Gudamalani, Pachpadra and Sheo. In Nagaur, from where Beniwal is expected to contest the Lok Sabha elections, the party won two seats – Khinvsar and Merta. It was a runner-up in the Jayal seat and secured the third position in the Ladnun and Nawan seats.
Similarly, in Sikar, securing approximately 25,000 votes each in the Neem Ka Thana and Sikar seats, the party managed the third place.
Even in the capital, the party secured sizeable votes in three seats – Bagru (15,796 votes), Chomu (39,042 votes) and Chakshu (16,706 votes) – just after the BJP and Congress.
The BJP was put in a weak spot after the Congress gave a ticket to Union minister Jaswant Singh’s son Manvendra Singh from the Barmer seat, and more recently inducted Krishna Poonia, an emerging Jat leader from the Jaipur (rural) seat, to swing the Jat vote in its favour.
In Rajasthan, the Rajput community has traditionally been a supporter of the BJP, but during the Vasundhara Raje regime, this relationship took a hit. The discontent began when Raje denied a ticket to veteran BJP leader Jaswant Singh from Barmer during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and got irreparable when her government booked few community leaders after the infamous gangster Anand Pal Singh’s encounter.
Cashing in on the situation, Congress pitted Manvendra Singh against Raje in her constituency Jhalrapatan. While he lost to Raje, it earned Congress a fair amount of goodwill among the Rajput voters. This time, Congress has given a ticket to Manvendra from Barmer.
Ashok Gehlot has created a lot of hindrance for the Jat leadership to prosper in the state. He’s known to play on the triple M factor – Muslim, Meghwal (Dalit) and Mali (OBCs) – instead of relying on the Jat votes to win an election. And this is why the Congress did not ally with Beniwal in the first place. “Gehlot’s focus has always been the Muslims, Meghwal and Mali in the Marwar region. It was unlikely that Beniwal could have materialised his alliance with the Congress in the presence of Gehlot,” Rajendra Bora, a senior journalist and political analyst told The Wire.
Aware of its souring relationship with the Rajputs and the growing popularity of Beniwal, the BJP decided to watertight its Jat vote bank by forming an alliance with RLTP. While BJP has repeated its existing MPs in 60% of the seats in Rajasthan, it’s still in a dilemma over the Barmer and Nagaur seats where the Congress has fielded Manvendra Singh and Jyoti Mirdha respectively.
The Mirdha family is an affluent Jat family in Nagaur. In the post-Emergency 1977 general elections, when the Congress suffered its first defeat after independence, the party still managed to win the Nagaur seat in Rajasthan under Nathuram Mirdha, Jyoti’s grandfather.
The association with Beniwal isn’t well taken within the BJP. Former chief minister Raje had kept herself away from the press conference where the alliance was announced by BJP’s election in-charge in Rajasthan, Prakash Javedkar. Beniwal who was first elected on a BJP ticket in 2008, had left the party in the same year after differences began to crop up. In fact, he has been a constant critic of the Raje government.
With dominant Muslim votes in Nagaur, there were speculations of BJP fielding Yoonus Khan, its sole Muslim candidate in the 2018 elections and close aide of the former chief minister Vasundhara Raje. As per sources, Yoonus Khan is believed to have put forth his candidature for the seat after losing his assembly seat in Tonk. “He held meetings with the Muslim community in Nagaur a few weeks ago to gather support for his candidature,” a BJP worker told The Wire on the condition of anonymity.
BJP’s alliance with RLTP is not going to be restricted to Nagaur. The party was able to make a significant impact on at least 16 seats of the Marwar region. Merta, where RLTP bagged a seat, has now been delimited to the Rajsamand Lok Sabha constituency. Even in Jodhpur, where chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav Gehlot is contesting for the first time against Modi’s aide Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, the party was able to gather 1,48,031 votes across the district in the assembly polls and is likely to make the way for Vaibhav difficult.