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Jats keep Congress, BJP guessing in Rajasthan

November 30, 2013 17:44 IST

A day before Rajasthan goes to polls, the ambivalence of Jats, the traditional support base of Congress, is giving the party jitters while the Bharatiya Janata Party is hoping to corner a significant chunk of their votes to stage a comeback to power.

The biggest caste group in the state -- they are anywhere between 14 to 18 per cent of total voters -- Jats remain divided in their loyalty despite attempts by the ruling party to rally them behind it in a state where effective social coalition is key to electoral victory.

Congress sources said the party has tried to give regional leaders a say in ticket distribution and even left the leadership question open if it comes back to power.

Osian constituency in Jodhpur in a way is microcosm of the party's worst fears about the Jat backlash and also how little it could do to tackle it.

Its present MLA Mahipal Maderna, an influential Jat leader, is an accused in the sensational Bhanwari Devi rape and murder case and is behind bars.

Congress has given ticket to not only his wife to fight elections but also the octogenarian mother of another co-accused Malkhan Singh Bishnoi from nearby Luni seat in its attempt to assuage both the communities.

Maderna's father Parasram Maderna was a towering Jat leader who was pipped in the race to the CM's chair by Ashok Gehlot in 1998.

Gehlot is also accused of marginalising the influential Jat clans, like Madernas and Mirdhas, and his relation with the existing crop of community leaders like Sisram Ola and Sonaram Choudhary are hardly warm.

Congress, however, has tried to mend fences in the run up to elections.

The party made 86-year-old Sisram Ola a Cabinet minister and denied sitting legislators the ticket at his behest to keep the Jat strongman in good humour.

Ola, they hope, will deliver in Jhunjhunu and neighbouring districts of Sikar and Churu.

However, political watchers say the fate of even state Congress president Chandrabhan, a Jat who is fighting from Mandawa in Churu, is uncertain.

The BJP is also vigorously wooing the community and has given tickets to 32 Jats candidates while Congress has allotted tickets to 36.

Political watchers say Jats had not voted overwhelmingly for Congress even in 2008 elections but it was helped by a big dent in BJP's vote bank as Meenas, who are about 10 per cent of voters, and Gujjars fled the saffron camp.

With Kirori Lal Meena rallying his tribe behind his fledgling National People’s Party and Gurjars divided among both parties, Congress needs Jat votes more than ever.

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