Jaipur: Of all people, C.P. Joshi should know how crucial every single vote is to win an election.
Having worked hard as the state Congress president, the veteran Congress leader was a key contender for the post of chief minister in the 2008 assembly polls.Although he led the party to victory, Joshi himself lost to BJP’s Kalyan Singh Chauhan by one vote. While that contest was declared void by the Rajasthan high court later, Joshi lost the opportunity to become chief minister.
Flash forward to ten years later and his comments at a gathering of his supporters on Thursday have put the Congress in the dock just days ahead of the polls.
His timing could not have been worse either. On Sunday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in Alwar for a poll rally, thanks to Joshi, he has fresh ammunition to target the Congress with.
Joshi had reportedly said at an election campaign in the desert state on Thursday that Modi, BJP MP Uma Bharti and Hindu activist Sadhvi Ritambhara hailed from “lower castes” and therefore, knew nothing about Hinduism. He added that it was the Brahmins who had the knowledge.
“There are a hundred things he could have talked about…unemployment, widespread farm distress, issues of women’s safety under a female chief minister, development, communal polarisation are all major issues in Rajasthan. Forget his choice of words, even the topic he broached was so unnecessary,” said a source from the party’s state unit.
Party sources believe Joshi’s statement has the potential to put a dent in the party’s prospects. Of the castes that Joshi talked adversely about, the Lodhis aren’t numerically significant in Rajasthan. However, the BJP and Modi are likely to play up Joshi’s comments as being insulting to all lower castes and OBCs.
Both these groups have substantial numbers in Rajasthan – Jats for instance are one of the largest OBC groups in the state – and have traditionally been Congress voters. Chief minister Ashok Gehlot himself belongs to a caste that falls in the OBC category.
It’s doubtful if the party stands to gain on the Brahmin vote from Joshi’s statements as caste groups condemned them too.
“Brahmans don’t talk like that. Our community does not believe in degrading others to claim our superiority. We condemn Joshi’s statement,” says Vinod Aman of the Vipra Foundation, a Brahman caste group.
In an election that is already going to be a very close one, if Joshi’s comments end up driving even a small chunk of OBC and lower caste votes away from the Congress, it could mean that the party could lose the edge it has over the BJP.
“He is a four time MLA, has been election in-charge for several states and is such a veteran leader…this has taken us all by surprise. It was just not expected of him. But it will be forgotten quickly,” another party source told The Wire on the condition of anonymity.
Others in the party, however, felt differently.
“Well, it was not his intention at all to hurt any community. He just wanted to drive the point across that who are these people (BJP leaders) to claim leadership for all Hindus. But it was blown out of proportion. Rahulji has tweeted on the issue and Joshi ji has also apologised. So the issue is over,” party spokesperson Satyendra Raghav said.
However, the clearest comment on the controversy came from former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who said party leaders should be careful about what they say.
“Rahul Gandhi had told all our leaders one month ago that BJP does not have anything to say for itself. They have no achievements to showcase and are completely exposed and so everyone was advised to be careful because these people (BJP) are experts at blowing things out of proportion. I had also conveyed this to everyone,” Gehlot told journalists in Banswara, after worshipping at the Tripura Sundari temple.
“This is what happened in Gujarat (elections) too…Mani Shankar Aiyyar had not commented on any caste or community but had made a personal comment against Modiji…whether it was appropriate or not I will not say.”
“What C.P. Joshiji said, and in what context I don’t know but it has given the BJP a chance to flare up an unnecessary controversy.
The Congress policy is clear…in fact its our capital, to respect all castes, communities, religions…there is no space for any person, big or small, to do anything discriminatory,” he said.