Gujjar divide reveals fault lines in Rajasthan Congress

Gujjar divide reveals fault lines in Rajasthan Congress

The resentment of Gujjars on various issues, including reservation, is creating disputes and conflicts among the party leaders

The resentment of Gujjars on various issues, including reservation, is creating disputes and conflicts among the party leaders

The mobilisation of Gujjars on the caste lines in Rajasthan has promoted divisions in the ruling Congress, with the rival factions attacking each other with the hope of getting political dominance ahead of the next year’s State Assembly election. The resentment of Gujjars on various issues, including reservation, is creating disputes and conflicts among the party leaders.

A ceremony for Asthi Visarjan (immersion of ashes) of Gujjar leader, the late Kirori Singh Bainsla, in Ajmer district’s Pushkar lake on Monday turned out to be an ugly show of factionalism in the ruling party. Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs Ashok Chandna, who was heckled at the programme, directly challenged former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot.

Both Mr. Chandna and Mr. Pilot belong to the Gujjar community. Thousands of people from the Most Backward Classes (MBCs) had gathered in Pushkar for the ceremony, while a public meeting was organised before the immersion of ashes. Both the Congress and the Opposition BJP leaders were present on the occasion.

The audience heckled Mr. Chandna and Industries Minister Shakuntala Rawat, also a Gujjar, while raising slogans in support of Mr. Pilot during their address. Some of the listeners, upset over Mr. Pilot allegedly not being invited to the ceremony, waved footwear at Mr. Chandna and allegedly hurled shoes towards the stage. The police controlled the situation after the shoes fell near the dais.

Among others, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, BJP State president Satish Poonia, former Minister and Deputy Leader of the Opposition Rajendra Rathore, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) national president Jayant Chaudhary and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav Gehlot were present at the meeting.

Mr. Chandna, 38, the youngest Minister in the State Cabinet, sought to connect the heckling with a perceived instigation by Mr. Pilot, despite the latter’s absence in the ceremony. He took to Twitter and challenged the former Deputy CM, saying he could fight it out with Mr. Pilot.

“If Sachin Pilot becomes the Chief Minister by getting shoes thrown at me, then he should do so quickly, because I am not in a mood to fight today. The day I come to fight, only one will be left, and I don’t want this,” Mr. Chandna said in a tweet in Hindi. Mr. Pilot and his social media team did not react to the controversy till Tuesday evening.

Mr. Chandna represents Bundi district’s Hindoli constituency in the State Assembly. He has been supporting Mr. Gehlot since the formation of Congress government and had sided with him during the political crisis caused by Mr. Pilot’s rebellion in July 2020. Gujjar youths and Congress party workers supporting Mr. Pilot have protested against Mr. Chandna several times, questioning his affiliation despite being a Gujjar.

Expressing displeasure over the hostility displayed in the meeting, Mr. Chandna also targeted BJP leader Mr. Rathore. He said the people clapped for Mr. Rathore, who was part of the Cabinet that gave orders for killing 72 persons during the agitation for reservation, while shoes were hurled on those “whose family members went to jail” during the stir. Mr. Rathore later accused the Congress of mishandling the Gujjar quota issue.

Col. Bainsla had led the agitation for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for five communities, including Gujjars. He died on March 21 this year. The five nomadic communities – Gujjar, Banjara, Gadia-Lohar, Raika and Gadariya – have since been recognised as MBCs and given 5% reservation.

Col. Bainsla’s son Vijay Bainsla, who is president of Gujjar Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti, undertook a yatra with his father’s ashes through 75 Assembly constituencies dominated by MBCs before reaching Pushkar on Saturday night. The participants in the yatra mobilised Gujjars on the way, urging them to show their political strength in the run-up to the 2023 Assembly polls.