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September 8, 1999


The Rediff Election Interview/ Dr Gyan Prakash Pilania

'For us this is dharm yudh. For us this is jihad'

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The two attendants transferred the old man carefully from the vehicle to the wheelchair. There was a step to be negotiated, and then, accompanied by slogans in his favour, the septuagenarian was wheeled into the jam-packed pandal.

This is Dr Gyan Prakash Pilania. Former director general of Rajasthan police. Now the head of the Jat Mahasabha. The man who could be the Congress's undoing this election.

Dr Pilania has been a paraplegic since a car accident some years ago. His campaign is against the Congress. Not for the BJP -- that is incidental.

The Jat Mahasabha came to prominence after Ashok Gehlot was sworn in as Rajasthan chief minister. Its fight, Dr Pilania says, is to win reservation for that community. And, of course, for the ouster of the Congress government, which "cheated the Jats."

Despite his debilitation, Dr Pilania has campaigned in an impressive number of places, mobilising the Jats, who are traditionally Congress supporters, against that party. The crowd and the police accompaniment that he has pulled here, in Bayto village some 80 kilometres from Barmer, would put many politicians-in-power to shame. As he starts his address in Marwari, it becomes evident how he does it.

He is a powerful speaker with a one-on-one style. The kind who can get the crowd to do his bidding -- if, for instance, at this moment Dr Pilania asked the people to turn on the police, they would have done so without a second thought.

After the meeting, as he sped through the Great Indian Desert towards his next venue, Dr Pilania spoke to Chindu Sreedharan about the politics behind his campaign.

On what the Jat Mahasabha is all about, how it came into being.

Izzat bachao, Congress hatao. That's our slogan. Defeat the Congress, save your honour. Defeat the Congress to save the honour of your turban. Defeat the Congress for deception. They went back on their promise, which they gave us in their election manifestos of 1993 and 1998. They said they would give us reservation.

The Jats are 6 million-strong in Rajasthan. The largest chunk here. The promise included other communities that were socially backward, poor, like the Jats, Bishnois and Sindhis. These communities are Hindus. There were Muslims too included in the promise. But it is not a question of Hindus, not a question of Muslims, not a question of Jats. It is not a question of any community or caste. It is a question of social justice. We are fighting for a principle. For us this is a dharm yudha. For us this is jihad. It is a people's movement.

I am a retired DGP. A man suffering from paraplegia. A man having a broken shoulder. I have to be carried out from one place to another. But as I am speaking the truth, the language of justice, people are supporting me.

More on the cause, and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's support.

Our cause has been vindicated by the prime minister coming to Rajasthan and declaring in very specific terms that reservation will be given to Jats, Bishnois etc. On the 30th of August he declared that after elections are over we would get justice. Prior to that, on 25th madam Sonia (Gandhi) also came to Rajasthan. She also stated the same.

Unfortunately the Congress government of the state had not kept its promise to us. And hence the communities that have been traditional voters of the Congress have turned hostile. They have been kicked out of their houses. In the election they will teach the Congress a lesson. At present there are 20 Congress MPs. This number will be reduced dramatically.

On whether the Jat Mahasabha is political in nature.

It is a social organisation. It is organised by a community for its uplift, for social reconstruction. It has nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with politics at all! We are not registered as a political party. We have no symbol. We have no political ambition. We have been put into this quagmire of elections because of injustice. Because of the indifference of the chief minister. He has ruined the Congress.

The Jat Mahasabha has been functioning from 1993. For social causes. But it is not a registered body, not even as an NGO or social organisation. We have no office, no funds, no staffers on our pay. Not even a steno. It is a David fighting Goliath. You saw the people at the meeting sitting on the sand? You saw their clothes? Their bearing? They are half-starved, illiterate people. Their felt need has made them brave.

An Other Backward Caste commission was formed in Rajasthan in 1998. Organisations of various castes that had not got reservation through the Mandal Commission put up their applications before it. So our claim had been pending for the last six years. The Commission kept on lingering, lingering, lingering because of the BJP government, the government of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, which represented a kind of feudal rule. We defeated it and the new government came. We taught the BJP a lesson for doing injustice to us.

Ashok Gehlot was sworn in in December 1998. We became happy, very assured that we would get justice. We made a formal request and expected that within a month or so we would get our due. But the chief minister didn't bother. At one stage he even said, 'We have made no promise. We were only sympathetic to their demand.' Then people made him realise that this was a written promise. How could he go back on it?

He chucked out the old commission and made a new one of his own choice on May 17. Now the matter is pending because the new commission says it will have another hearing. The Central Commission in Delhi had already heard our case. On 27th November 1997 they made a unanimous recommendation to the central government that the Jats of Rajasthan should be given reservation.

When the Central Commission has taken a decision it was very easy for the state to follow that example. When the Supreme Court takes a decision, do you need a decision on that very issue from the high court? You don't. We pointed this out to the chief minister. But he had deception in his mind. He had cheating in his heart. And hence he did not listen to us.

Ultimately, we gave this slogan on July 11, 1999, the day elections were declared: No reservation, no vote. He didn't bother even then. On the 1st of August 1999 we had a rally where 250,000 people congregated. Voluntarily, spontaneously, they congregated. Decisions were taken. One was Izzat bachao, Congress hatao. The second was to give votes to that candidate by voting for whom the Congress candidate can be defeated. Who to vote for would be decided by the district committee of the Jat Mahasabha. Grassroot democracy, you see.

On why the Jats demand reservation.

There are laid-down criteria to decide whether a community deserves OBC status. In bold heads, there are three heads. One, social backwardness. Second, educational backwardness. Third, lack of representation in services. The Jats and all these communities satisfy these scales.

Whichever persons are set to run a distance should be treated equally. Equally placed people should be equally treated. Our grievance was that that similarly placed or better placed communities were given OBC status while we were ignored. That created great anguish in the minds of the people. You saw the state of affairs here. How much these illiterate people feel about this issue. How they were shouting slogans with me. They are willing to die on my call. Because they feel so intensely about this matter.

On whether his campaign has changed caste equations in the state.

There is no religious implication except for that we have declared openly Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai. We are jumping to the cause of the Meos who are Muslims, of the Sindhis who are Muslims. This campaign has brought us nearer to other castes.

On the Rajput-Jat relationship.

We have no bitterness towards them. Neither do I think that they have any animosity towards us. (Pointing at his son) He's married to a Rajput lady. There are certain bigoted people in every community who talk all this foolishness. A sensible man will not. You can't help being born in a particular community. It is an accident of birth. For that, people shouldn't fight. In Barmer we're asking for votes against a Jat, Sonaram Chaudhary.

On the poll results.

It will be dramatic and sensational. The Congress will pay heavily for this. And the BJP will be the gainers.

On why Gehlot is denying reservation to the Jats

I am not able to understand. I think it is political immaturity or miscalculation. We considered him our brother. I thought him as an honest and upright man. Even in my dreams I never thought that he would do this. But he played foul for reasons known best to him. What do you say, nobody can find what is in the mind of a... Well, I would not like to say the word now.

On the Jats' relation with the BJP.

The BJP had no part in the matter at all. Jats were never the fans of BJP. We had no conspiracy with the BJP at all. The people rose on their own. Now the BJP is also realising our strength and extending a hand of friendship. But we have taken no funds, nothing from the BJP. In fact, we have no funds! This is my own vehicle. The driver is my son -- that's all! No corpus, not even a single pai.

The Jat Mahasabha is a strange organisation, my friend. It is a social phenomena. It is a people's revolt. It is a magnificent obsession with them. By God's will, we will win.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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