Given the substantial Muslim population in Tonk, Rajasthan, also referred to as the “Land of Nawabs” or “Lucknow of Rajasthan,” the election campaign has been seen as leaning more towards sectarian politics. Lahore is keeping an eye on the polls in Tonk and Rajasthan, according to BJP MP for Delhi Ramesh Bidhuri, who recently courted controversy for his disparaging, communally polarizing statements against BSP MP Danish Ali in Parliament. Bhiduri was speaking at a young workers’ gathering that Tonk Ajit Mehta, the BJP candidate, had arranged. Bhiduri has been appointed as the party’s leader in the state that is headed for elections. “We’ll have to wait and see if laddus are given out across the nation or just in Lahore following the elections on the 25th,” he said. This election is being watched by the adversary who is located outside of the nation. It has to do with who we are.
It’s time to reflect on the past and assess how well the two main political candidates in the state have performed throughout their campaigns, with one day remaining for voting in Rajasthan and one week for results counting. While Congress has mostly relied on its social programs to win over supporters, the BJP has filled in the holes left by increased unemployment, crime against women, anti-incumbency sentiment, and, of course, communalism.
The political debate in Rajasthan veered towards communal divisiveness as November 25 drew near. Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked, “Slogans supporting terrorism are being hailed in Rajasthan and this was beyond expectation,” during an election rally in the Baytoo seat. Whenever the party departs, it is Congress’s appeasement tactics that foster terrorism and intercommunal violence.” He took aim at the state administration headed by Ashok Gehlot, claiming that the Congress is pushing the state into “cultural disintegration” and that the economically disadvantaged group would bear the brunt of the ensuing discord among the populace.
Since the start of the state’s election campaign, the opposition BJP has invoked gods and goddesses and used the opulence of the Ayodhya Ram temple to win over voters. In order to strengthen religious politics, it has also elevated the Kanhaia Lal murder case to a major talking topic.
On June 28, of last year, members of the Muslim community in Udaipur assassinated 48-year-old tailor Kanhaiya Lal with a cleaver inside his shop as retaliation for what they saw as an insult to Islam during the continuing dispute over Prophet Muhammad, which was sparked by a remark made by a former BJP member. After Lal’s passing, BJP National President JP Nadda said that the Congress administration in power was supporting those who sang slogans like “sar tan se juda,” which threatened beheading. “Could we even imagine that in India we would ever hear a slogan like’sar tan se juda’ (a reference to beheading)?” Modi said in regard to this occurrence at one of his rallies. However, the misrule of the Congress has caused this to occur in the nation of braves.
In retaliation, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said that Lal’s death was the fault of the “BJP men.” After the men were let free, resentment at the Congress administration grew. Gehlot has often attacked the BJP, saying that although the saffron party’s “divisive politics” may be effective in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthanians “preferred staying in peace.”
Muslims are leaning toward the Congress
Moeen, 18, a young Muslim lad, rushes from places after he clutches a picture of Gehlot in Jaipur’s capital. “Congress is my life, does good for all,” he states, “sabka bhala karta hai, meri jaan hai.”
In Rajasthan, the minority vote base has remained largely loyal to the Congress. This can be seen in areas like the Sheo constituency in Barmer, where incumbent 85-year-old Ameen Khan has been winning seats on the Congress ticket despite a severe water crisis and a delayed infrastructural development. There is a significant Muslim community in Barmer, and a similar scenario can be seen in the Sardarpura seat in Jodhpur, where Muslims account for almost 28,000 of the total votebank. Mohamadden Hanef Khilji, 83, says in an interview with Outlook, “We will benefit only from the Congress rule.” Gehlot ji is not of the opinion that the BJP should burn down a community. Congress has never done so and will never be able to. Khilji, who saw the horrifying fallout from the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid, claims that she has not yet recovered from the horror that his community endured at the time and that his rage has never allowed him forget what “ills have befallen Muslims since then.” Puri desh mein inhone toh lagayi aag, he continues, referring to the saffron party.
Saradrapura supporters, like Khilji, think that even while riots may occur in Rajasthan under a Congress government, they would occur less often. Sindhi Deepak Mangani asserts that despite Congress’s advocacy of conciliatory politics, “danga is less.”
Muslims in Alwar, an urban area, seem to be leaning more towards the Congress as one proceeds from the west to the east; this might be an attempt by the community to oppose the Hindutva policies of the BJP. The BJP’s sadhu-sant (seers and saints) tactics in the area, according to 24-year-old Mubarik Khan Malik, merely polarize one group. Malik refers to recent remarks made by BJP candidate Mahant Balaknath from the Tijara seat in Alwar, which has regularly made headlines for communal violence, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. “They have not even won the election, and they have already started speaking about bulldozer politics,” Malik says.
Hindu consolidation of the BJP and AIMIM’s advances
Bhiduri made another controversial comment when he moved southwest to Tonk, which has always been seen as a “minority seat” of the Congress due to the predominance of the Muslim community. Following up on his statement from Lahore, he said, “Everyone in the nation is excitedly following this election.” Lahore is watching elections in Rajasthan and Tonk, not just the nation. Who provides PFI people with housing? Who feeds PFI individuals who are apprehended? They are fed by those seated in Tonk.”
Bhiduri included Hamas in his disparaging statement in addition to the outlawed extreme Islamic group Popular Front of India. That evening, Bhiduri is heard stating that “terrorists like Hamas have an eye on this region” in a supposedly recorded speech. “In the event of an accident, the family receives ₹ 50 lakh and a job; conversely, if an innocent Kanhaiya is killed, ₹ 5 lakh is discussed as an alms payment,” the source claimed.
In contrast to the Congress, which has nominated 15 candidates, the BJP has not offered a ticket to any Muslim candidate for this assembly election. The concern is whether the AIMIM’s entrance, which has fielded candidates for around 13 seats, may result in a divided vote. The AIMIM has been attempting to gain ground in Tonk in an effort to reduce the Muslim vote for the Congress. At a protest earlier this year in Tonk district, AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi asked the community to strengthen its “political power” in order to have its “injustices and pain addressed”.
Religious politics offend tribes.
But as soon as one steps into the tribal heartland of southern Rajasthan, all the polarizing and appeasing tactics of both parties seem to fade into the background. Banswara, Gurgaon, Pratapgarh, and five additional districts—Udaipur, Rajsamand, Chittorgarh, Sirohi, and Pali—that have a sizable tribal voter base are included in the electoral area that is controlled by tribes. Furthermore, the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP), a recent addition to the tribal leadership and a possible threat to the “religious politics” of Hindutva organizations mostly connected to the BJP and RSS, is beginning to gain traction.
In recent years, the BJP has been more popular among adivasi people. Their political triumphs attest to that. Adivasis are seen by the BJP as an essential component of the Hindutva movement, yet some Congress leaders support acknowledging their own religious identity. According to Kunal Shahdeo, an expert on Adivasi politics, “the rise of BAP and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) highlights the concerns of adivasis who have historically faced discrimination, exploitation, and marginalization despite electoral promises from both the BJP and Congress.”
The BAP’s candidate for Dungarpur MLA, Kantilal Roat, tells Outlook that attempts to split the state’s adivasis along religious lines—yena, kena, and prakāreņa—have been made repeatedly during the BJP and Congress’s alternating administrations, “in whatever manner possible.” The two main issues that Rajasthan’s tribal population is now facing are religious politics and the two parties’ shady blame-game. Perhaps the leaders above would realize the actual nature of the demands of adivasis the day these (things) cease. And believe me, it goes beyond what people see,” asserts Roat, who believes that the Congress and the BJP are similar parties. “The latter is subtle about their religious politics, while the former practices them openly.”