Rajasthan Elections 2023: Who Will Secure the Votes of Dalits and Tribals?

Dalit and tribal voters wield significant influence in determining the fate of political parties vying for governance in the state. Rajasthan allocates 34 assembly seats for the Scheduled Caste (Dalit community) and 25 assembly seats for the Scheduled Tribe (tribal community), constituting 59 out of 200 assembly seats. The MLAs securing victories in these 59 seats play a pivotal role in shaping the state's government.
CM Ashok Gehlot addressing a rally in Bhopalgarh on Saturday afternoon.
CM Ashok Gehlot addressing a rally in Bhopalgarh on Saturday afternoon.

Rajasthan- The electoral battleground has been set in Rajasthan, with political parties actively engaging in the assembly elections, presenting their candidates and making concerted efforts to win over voters. A crucial question arises: which side will the Dalit-Tribal voters lean towards in this political contest? To explore this, The Mooknayak team initiated its election campaign from Jalore district, a focal point of Dalit resistance following the tragic demise of student Indra Meghwal.

Embarking on a journey from the district headquarters towards Surana village, covering approximately 25 kilometers, we paused for respite in Mandwala village. In the expansive complex of the Ramdevra temple, we engaged in an election discussion with Dalit rights activist Bhagwanaram Meghwal after delving into the economic and social fabric of the village. Bhagwanaram expressed, "There are 1800 families in my village, of which 600 are Dalits. Despite the anguish and anger among the people, they feel compelled to choose between BJP or Congress, reflecting disappointment with parties claiming to be Dalit-friendly."

As night fell in Ramsin town within the Bhinmal tehsil, we encountered Dalit young journalist Dilip Solanki. Dilip highlighted the inactivity of political parties' district and tehsil units with Dalit identity, emphasizing the absence of committees in many places. This disconnection has left Dalit voters with no compelling alternative, forcing them to align with traditional parties.

Journeying from Jalore to the Scheduled Tribe-dominated Sirohi district, thrust into the national spotlight after the murder of tribal social worker Kartik Bhil, we met with the victim's family staging a ten-month-long strike at the collectorate complex. Ruparam, Kartik Bhil's brother, expressed profound disappointment, stating that the government has neglected their demands. Dalit advocate and social worker Devendra Meghwal voiced frustration, asserting, "Dalit tribals are not born merely to cast votes. The government's lack of investigation into the involvement of the sitting MLA from the Jain community in the Kartik Bhil murder case is a glaring injustice. Despite this, Congress has fielded him again. With 60 thousand Dalit and about 45 thousand tribal voters in this assembly, the Dalit-tribal electorate is poised to unite and respond to the government."

The yatra's subsequent destination was Pali district, where Dalit youth Jitendra Meghwal met a tragic end allegedly for sporting a moustache. The society demanded financial assistance of Rs 50 lakh and a government job for the victim's family, requests yet to be fulfilled by the government. This has fuelled resentment among Dalit youth towards the present administration.

Ex-CM Vasundhara Raje echoes the 'Vocal for Local' sentiment, championing regional empowerment during her state-wide rallies.
Ex-CM Vasundhara Raje echoes the 'Vocal for Local' sentiment, championing regional empowerment during her state-wide rallies.

Dalit-Tribal Voters: The Kingmakers of Rajasthan Elections

Dalit and tribal voters wield significant influence in determining the fate of political parties vying for governance in the state. Rajasthan allocates 34 assembly seats for the Scheduled Caste (Dalit community) and 25 assembly seats for the Scheduled Tribe (tribal community), constituting 59 out of 200 assembly seats. The MLAs securing victories in these 59 seats play a pivotal role in shaping the state's government. Traditionally considered a stronghold for Congress, both Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe voters have witnessed a gradual shift, with the BJP making inroads. The 2023 elections introduce a triangular contest with the emergence of the Azad Samaj Party, the presence of the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the strong positioning of the Bharatiya Tribal Party and Bharatiya Adivasi Party in Southern Rajasthan, posing a potential challenge for the conventional political players.

Beyond the 59 reserved seats in Rajasthan, approximately two dozen additional assembly seats hinge on the decisions of Dalit and tribal voters, becoming the arbiters of victory or defeat. The direction these voters lean significantly influences the outcome. Examining the 2018 assembly elections, Congress secured 19 seats out of 34 reserved for Scheduled Castes, while the BJP claimed 12 seats, with others winning 3. In the same election, out of the total 59 reserved seats, Congress garnered the support of 38 MLAs, including BSP representatives and independents, while the BJP secured 21 MLAs. This substantial lead in reserved category seats proved instrumental in forming the Congress government.

In contrast, the 2013 assembly elections saw BJP winning 32 Scheduled Caste seats, leaving Congress without a single seat. For the 25 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes, BJP secured 18, while Congress only managed 4. Out of the total 59 reserved seats, Congress secured a mere 4, while BJP dominated with 50 seats, and others claimed 5. This dwindling representation led Congress to secure only 21 out of 200 seats in 2013, while BJP, with its significant support in reserved seats, formed the government with a substantial majority.

The 2008 assembly elections witnessed Congress winning 16 Scheduled Caste and 18 Scheduled Tribe seats (34 in total), while BJP managed 15 Scheduled Caste and 2 Scheduled Tribe seats (17 in total). During that time, out of the 34 reserved category seats, both Congress and BJP could only secure 17 seats each, but Congress formed the government through strategic maneuvering.

The dynamics shifted in the last assembly elections, introducing the Bharatiya Tribal Party, advocating for tribal rights. Contesting on 11 seats, the party secured two seats with 0.72 percent of the votes. In the upcoming elections, the Bharatiya Tribal Party intensifies its campaign, demanding a tribal Bhil state, potentially leading to a three-cornered contest on approximately 20 seats in the tribal belt. However, the separation of MLAs Ram Prasad and Rajkumar Roat from the Bharatiya Tribal Party might escalate the possibility of vote fragmentation in tribal communities.

BTP and BAP, the formidable tribal parties, emerge as formidable contenders challenging political heavyweights, particularly in South Rajasthan.
BTP and BAP, the formidable tribal parties, emerge as formidable contenders challenging political heavyweights, particularly in South Rajasthan.

Dalit Discontent and Political Crossroads

Dalit rights activist Bhanwar Meghvanshi expresses the deep-seated grievances within the Dalit community, surpassing those against Congress. However, the prevailing sentiment is a pragmatic one – Dalits are inclined to support a party and candidate capable of defeating the BJP. The ground reality reflects a reluctance to waste votes, emphasizing the strategic choice of the party that stands the best chance against the ruling party.

Amidst the Dalit community, confusion looms as articulated by Satish Kumar of Dalit Adhikar Kendra. The socio-political landscape has undergone significant shifts, fueled by the aftermath of the April 2 bandh and a surge in cases of atrocities against Dalits. This has led to heightened agitation among the youth, resulting in confusion, a lack of clear direction, and a dearth of viable options. Various organizations have emerged in the name of Dalit causes, entering the electoral fray, further contributing to the complexity of choices.

Despite disillusionment with both the BJP and Congress, there exists a nuanced sentiment among Dalits. Satish Kumar acknowledges a certain ideological alignment with Congress, though tempered by Congress leaders' perceived silence on crucial incidents, leaving Dalits feeling abandoned.

The introduction of the "Dalit Manifesto," born out of a social justice march across 50 districts led by retired IPS officer Satyaveer Singh, marks a turning point. The manifesto encapsulates the articulated needs, issues, and expectations of the Dalit and tribal voters. Its existence signifies a heightened awareness among the community, signalling an intention to align their votes with the political party that incorporates their demands into its manifesto.

MLA Rajkumar Roat  showcases his election symbol, amidst a spirited campaign in Chorasi, Dungarpur.
MLA Rajkumar Roat showcases his election symbol, amidst a spirited campaign in Chorasi, Dungarpur.

BSP/SP Prospects: A Complex Landscape

In this electoral landscape, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has thrown its hat into the ring by fielding candidates on all 200 seats. The party claims to offer a viable alternative, particularly in response to perceived inaction in cases of Dalit atrocities. The Azad Samaj Party, too, asserts its commitment to fighting against such atrocities, presenting itself as a force that can rally Bahujan communities, including Dalits.

However, Senior journalist Narayan Barhath from the Azad Samaj Party Association offers a different perspective on BSP's historical performance. Despite initially making inroads in 1993, Barhath notes a decline in confidence among Dalit voters due to the exodus of elected BSP representatives to Congress. This decline is reflected in dwindling vote percentages, from over seven percent in 2008 to 3.37 percent in 2013. The trend appears to persist in the 2018 assembly elections, with little indication of significant improvement, except perhaps in isolated seats.

While skepticism lingers, the dynamics may shift with the Azad Samaj Party's alliance with Hanuman Beniwal's Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, potentially altering the political landscape in specific constituencies. The upcoming elections hold the key to unravelling the complex interplay of political choices and the evolving dynamics of Dalit and tribal voter preferences in Rajasthan.

CM Ashok Gehlot addressing a rally in Bhopalgarh on Saturday afternoon.
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BJP and Congress in a Fierce Battle for Dalit-Tribal Votes

In the run-up to the Rajasthan Assembly elections, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress are actively courting Dalit-Tribal voters. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is strategically aiming to secure victory in 50 out of the 59 assembly seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, a crucial factor in his successful bid for Chief Minister thrice before. Recognizing the pivotal role of reserved seats, both parties are intensifying their efforts to sway the sentiment of these communities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is personally involved in fortifying the BJP's foothold in reserved seats, acknowledging the indispensable support of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for any party aspiring to form a government in the state. To counter anti-government sentiments, both the Congress and the BJP are overhauling their candidate lineup, ousting underperforming MLAs and introducing new faces. This internal shake-up has, however, sparked opposition within both political factions.

In a bid to capture the tribal vote bank, Chief Minister Gehlot strategically declared Salumber, a tribal-populated district in Udaipur, as a new district, and Banswara as a new division. This move is intended to curb the rising influence of the Bharatiya Tribal Party and Bharatiya Adivasi Party. Chief Minister Gehlot is actively engaging with the public through inflation relief camps, outlining various government welfare schemes. The Congress appears to be reaping some benefits from these efforts. However, the BJP is gearing up for a robust electoral battle, particularly in the tribal-dominated divisions of Banswara and Udaipur.

Dalit and Tribal Reserved Seats in Rajasthan

Scheduled Caste Reserved Seats: Dudu, Bagru, Chaksu, Alwar Rural, Kathumar, Vair, Bayana, Baseri, Hindaun, Sikrai, Khandar, Niwai, Ajmer South, Jayal, Merta, Sojat, Bhopalgarh, Bilara, Chauhattan, Jalore, Revdar, Kapasan, Shahpura, Keshavraipatan, Ramganj Mandi, Baran-Atru, Dag, Raisinghnagar, Anupgarh, Pilibanga, Khajuwala, Sujangarh, Pilani, Dhod.

Scheduled Tribe Reserved Seats: Bassi, Rajgarh-Laxmangarh, Jamvaramgarh, Todabhim, Sapotra, Lalsot, Bamanwas, Pindwara-Abu, Gogunda, Jhadol, Dungarpur, Aspur, Sagwada, Chaurasi, Ghatol, Garhi, Banswara, Bagidaura, Kherwada, Udaipur Rural, Salumber, Dhariyavad, Kushalgarh, Pratapgarh, Kishanganj.

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