In Rajasthan’s Bharatpur, anger over development and caste, and BJP’s uphill battle

The constituency had voted for the BJP in the last two elections. Did it buck the trend this time?
"The road of Nagla Mana village in Bharatpur that has not been constructed till today."
"The road of Nagla Mana village in Bharatpur that has not been constructed till today."Pic- Meena Kotwal

Bharatpur- About 10 kilometres away from Rajasthan’s Bharatpur town, the main road snakes through farms to transform into a slushy kutcha track leading to Nagla Mana village. It’s so unmotorable that it even “deters marriage proposals,” claimed Fakir Singh, a resident.

“People look at this muddy road and say, ‘This is a forest. Why go to a village that does not have a road,’” said the 50-year-old farmer.

As parties hit the campaign trail, the 600-strong village – mostly consisting of Jatav families – felt left behind each election season. Villagers claimed they had reached out to public representatives and officials at all levels to fix the road but nothing had changed; official apathy persisted. They had even put up a banner saying “no road, no vote” in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Nagla Mana is part of the Bharatpur Lok Sabha constituency – one of the four parliamentary seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes in Rajasthan – and is situated in Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhajanlal Sharma’s home district.

The constituency had over 19.4 lakh voters, according to the Election Commission’s 2019 electoral roll data, with Jats (5.3 lakh) and Jatavs (3.5 lakh) forming the biggest chunk. In the last two elections, it voted for the BJP, just like other parliamentary segments in Rajasthan – the party won all the 25 seats in 2014 and all except Nagaur in 2019. But considering that Rajasthan usually votes against incumbents in state polls, some felt that the Lok Sabha election might buck the trend this time.

The BJP’s candidate selection in Bharatpur might have offered a hint.

Like several other areas of the constituency visited by The Mooknayak, opinions were divided in Nagla Mana on the tenure of BJP’s incumbent MP Ranjita Koli, who had defeated the Congress candidate with a huge margin in the last election but had been replaced by the party’s SC Morcha state president Ramswaroop Koli this time.

Pic- Meena Kotwal

One village’s road is another’s farm

Vikesh Fauzdar, a law student in his 30s, said the road to Nagla Mana couldn’t be developed because the land surrounding the narrow path was being used for tenant farming, and the farmers were from the neighboring village, which had a population of 1,500.

“The way to our village goes through their farms. If they receive the money, they will allow the road… a village with 600 people cannot spoil relations with a village of 1,500,” claimed Fauzdar, adding that the matter had been discussed with the local body, as well as public representatives and ministers, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had earlier attended an event in Bharatpur. “But we faced disappointment everywhere.”

Rekha, another villager, said the lack of a road made it more difficult for women to collect water. “Everyone came to ask for votes… later they gave us the cold shoulder,” said the local, in her 40s, adding that she voted for the party suggested by the men in her family.

Temple, ‘no hospital’: ‘We don’t like this brand of Hinduism’

About 50 kilometers away from Nagla Mana is the Ranf village, inhabited mostly by Jatav families which complained of untouchability, lack of basic amenities, and the inaccessibility of government policies.

“Women had to be taken to Bharatpur or Alwar for deliveries. There were so many problems here but no MP or MLA had ever paid attention,” said Mansa Ram Kanhaiya Lal Tanwar, a 43-year-old who lived in the area.

Dinesh Mishra*, a local who stood near a shop donning a white t-shirt, claimed that BJP MP Koli had promised a railway track, and the same unfulfilled promise was now being repeated by the party candidate Ramswaroop Koli. “We do not like this behavior.”

Pointing to a private hospital in the distance, he said there was a government health center nearby but it only had medicine for “cough and cold”. “If they could have built a hospital for us instead of the (Ram) temple, we would have been happier… we do not like this kind of Hinduism.”

Brij Mohan, another villager, said the BJP’s supporters among the upper castes did not let the “lower castes” go to temples. “Ram isn’t ours. Babasaheb (BR Ambedkar) is ours… whatever we have is given by Babasaheb.”

Salim is a journalist said that Ranjita Koli had made many promises which remained unfulfilled so there was a trust issue this time.
Salim is a journalist said that Ranjita Koli had made many promises which remained unfulfilled so there was a trust issue this time.Pic- Meena Kotwal

“We will not vote for this government again… people in the BJP want to finish off the Constitution,” he said, repeating the Opposition’s accusation that PM Modi’s government wanted to change the Constitution and strip vulnerable sections of quota benefits if it stormed to power the third time with its “400-paar” call.

PM Modi had recently tried to dispel such fears, claiming that not even BR Ambedkar could change the Constitution now, while referring to the BJP’s fulfilled promises, such as the de-operationalization of Article 370 as well as the construction of the Ram Mandir.

Brij Mohan accused two OBC groups of practicing casteism “the most”. “We talk to them but there is no common ground. We are never invited to their wedding functions. They say ‘you are from a lower caste’.”

The missing education and health facilities pointed to another kind of exclusion.

Salim, a journalist from Bharatpur, said the area lacked jobs as well as education and health facilities. “If someone fell sick, they had to go 50 kilometers away to Bharatpur. And because of no employment,” he said, there was a surge in crimes. He claimed Ranjita Koli had made many promises which remained unfulfilled so there was a trust issue this time.

The Govt RBM hospital in Bharatpur.
The Govt RBM hospital in Bharatpur.Pic- Meena Kotwal

The hospital Salim was referring to was the Rajasthan-run Raj Bahadur Memorial in the administrative headquarters of Bharatpur division.

The way to the OPD was marked by a poster announcing the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Inside, Karan Sinha, a laborer from Kathukumar, told The Mooknayak that he had to travel 60 kilometers for treatment of his leg injury.

He wasn’t the only one. Virendra, in his 40s, came to the hospital for his four-year-old son’s CT scan as his village, which was located nearly 60 kilometers away, lacked the necessary equipment.

According to a Union health ministry report, there were 31,053 active primary health centers across India, with 24,935 located in rural areas and 6,118 in urban areas. India had 6,064 active community health centers, of which 5,480 were rural. According to the report, the number of sub-centers had increased by 11,909, with the largest number of new sub-centers being set up in Rajasthan.

The temporary counters for free medicine distribution at the OPD.
The temporary counters for free medicine distribution at the OPD. Pic- Meena Kotwal

The OPD counters were empty at the RBM hospital, but outside, temporary counters had been set up for free medicines under the Mukhyamantri Nishulk Nirogi Rajasthan Yojana, or Chief Minister’s Free Healthy Rajasthan Plan.

“There was carelessness at the hospital. They didn’t look after patients well. They often referred them to Jaipur without even checking them. A relative of mine died… but, medicine and treatment were free,” claimed a woman at the makeshift counter.

Pic- Meena Kotwal

'She knows nothing’

The houses in Ranf looked the same, except the one at the end of the muddy path. On the way to that mansion-like temporary residence – inhabited by the BSP’s Bharatpur candidate Anjila Jatav – was a rusty signboard for the PM’s rural road scheme surrounded by stagnated water.

The lawn inside the house had a photograph of Anjila Jatav with the BSP’s poll symbol, near her election office under a tent.

The BSP candidate, who lived with her family in Delhi, had moved to Bharatpur because of her debut Lok Sabha election. She said she had never faced casteism and admitted that she was told to announce her surname ahead of the polls. Anjila, however, asserted that she had better educational qualifications than the BJP candidate, who had won the Lok Sabha polls in 2004, and the Congress’s Sanjana Jatav, another first-time candidate.

If she won the election, Anjila, an M Tech in thermal engineering, said she would first focus on the availability of potable water.

Asked about the BSP’s refusal to join the INDIA opposition bloc, the succession of Mayawati’s nephew Akash Anand, or Hindutva politics, Anjila relied on education and development to parry all queries.

“Religion, temple, mosque are processes that bind you. You can have faith in them, find peace from them but they cannot bring you development. Education is necessary for development. A temple will lead to more beggars. A temple won’t bring welfare. I don’t want to ask for votes on a temple or mosque but on education.”

On Mayawati’s perceived silence on issues linked to constitutional liberties, she said that the BSP chief was not silent. “This is how the media is showing it. She is surely involved in some or the other strategy. People are confused; they are focusing on temple-mosque issues. This can be corrected with good education.”

Slogans written outside a house.
Slogans written outside a house. Pic- Meena Kotwal

Outside the residence, Meena sat on the low-height boundary wall of her house near Anjila’s home. “Don’t talk to her. She doesn’t know anything,” said the 40-year-old, who had moved to Maharashtra after marriage but had come to the village to meet her family. “There is no road here; it is always filled with water. The school is fine but it is not better than Maharashtra… untouchability is widespread. When we go to fill water, our vessels are placed away.”

However, her daughter’s friend Meenakshi had hopes that Anjila would change things if voted to power.

Ranf, which housed nearly 600 families, was also home to nearly 40 Brahmin families, most of whom were satisfied with the BJP government’s performance.

Goond Ram praised Ranjita Koli. “She did good work but no one can fill the stomachs of another. She worked on the school and road… only Modi will return to power, no matter who you vote for.”

Meena Kotwal with Sanjana Jatav
Meena Kotwal with Sanjana JatavPic- Meena Kotwal

Return of the BJP despite Jat anger?

While Ramswaroop Koli remained unavailable for comment, The Mooknayak met Sanjana Jatav, a 25-year-old who might break Sachin Pilot’s record to be the youngest MP from Rajasthan if she won the election. While her home was in Bhoosavar near Bharatpur, her in-laws lived in Kathukumar in Alwar.

Sanjana Jatav had contested the last assembly polls and had lost with a thin margin of 409 votes. A lawyer by qualification, she said she had requested the Election Commission for a recount but they did not do it.

If voted to power, Sanjana said she would propagate the politics of development and also push for a Jat quota – a contentious issue in Bharatpur. The Manmohan Singh government had granted OBC quota to the Jats but the Modi government annulled it and is yet to include the community in the central OBC list despite the Vasundhara Raje government approving it in 2017.

Nem SIngh Faujdar, the convenor of 'Operation Gangajal' explained why the Jat community has vowed to not vote for the BJP.
Nem SIngh Faujdar, the convenor of 'Operation Gangajal' explained why the Jat community has vowed to not vote for the BJP. Pic- Meena Kotwal

The Jats in Bharatpur, meanwhile, seemed to be divided. Nem Singh Fauzdar, the convenor of the Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti, claimed the community was being misled by false promises and that’s why his outfit had launched the ‘Operation Gangajal’ campaign, as part of which people were being made to take an oath with the gangajal in hand to not vote for the BJP.

“We made a resolution on December 25 and began our tour that day, resolving that if we do not get Jat reservation before the implementation of the Model Code of Conduct, we will initiate such a campaign. We are going to dozens of villages every day and making appeals for the defeat of the BJP.”

There were fissures too between the Jats and the Jatavs – the two largest voting blocs in the constituency. In 1992, caste violence was triggered by a dispute inside a cinema hall. Sixteen Dalits were killed, 43 injured, 120 houses burnt, and during a 31-year trial, 32 of the 83 accused died and one turned fugitive. In September 2023, the Bharatpur SC-ST Special Court sentenced nine to life while acquitting the rest.

Fauzdar asserted that Jats were supportive of Jatavs, who had “the keys to the kingdom here”. “The Jats and the Jatavs are the most populous here. These communities can make anyone win or lose here if they come together,” said local journalist Akash Gupta.

However, a section of Jatav voters, just like many Jats from Bharatpur, were miffed with the BJP’s performance this time.

Ranjeeta Koli's residence
Ranjeeta Koli's residence Pic- Meena Kotwal

What did the incumbent MP have to say about the allegations?

When Ranjita Koli remained unavailable for comment on the phone for around four days, The Mooknayak visited her home in Bayana, 50 km away from Bharatpur.

The guard outside initially said that she was not home, but one of her staffers subsequently came outside and asked why we had come. Koli then agreed to meet us on the condition that the conversation would not be recorded.

Koli was reluctant to speak initially and only agreed on the condition that the conversation would not be recorded.
Koli was reluctant to speak initially and only agreed on the condition that the conversation would not be recorded.Pic- Meena Kotwal

Koli pointed to her efforts to put an end to the activities of the mining mafia in Bharatpur, and how she had toiled for the weaker sections and women. Asked about the BJP not giving her a ticket from Bharatpur, she said she had nothing against the party’s decision.

The MP was supposed to receive Rs 17 crore under the MP Local Area Development Scheme but got only Rs 7 crore. Of this, Rs 1.43 crore lay unutilized.

Journalist Akash Gupta claimed Koli had been absent from the constituency most of the time. “She frequently talks about attacks on her (by the mining mafia) but no one has seen them.”

Bharatpur went to the polls in the first phase on April 19.

This is the second story in a special series in collaboration with News Laundry on the election machine in reserved constituencies. The story was first published in News Laundry.

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