With state elections slated for later this year, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is busy campaigning through the desert terrain of western Rajasthan.
But along with holding election meetings, Ms Raje has an interesting political strategy, that of invoking and commemorating historical incidents of Rajasthan. The chief minister will be inaugurating 54 memorials dedicated to local heroes, folk deities and even those who have local stories of valour and courage like Panna Dhai in Mewar.
“Rajasthan was built of the 22 states of Rajputana that came together, so their history must be celebrated and remembered,” said chief minister Raje.
There is a deliberate political strategy behind recalling local history, which so far has not been a part of mainstream narrative. In a village called Auwa, she inaugurated a memorial of heroes of the 1857 mutiny, who have so far gone unrecognized. The move comes with an eye on the crucial Rajput vote bank in western Rajasthan.
“Auwa was ignored as after Independence they were associated with the feudal lords, they were not a vote bank the dispensation wanted to cater to. So it is this point of view of looking upon people as vote banks that led to them being ignored. But they are national heroes and must be recognized,” said Onkar Singh Lakhawat, the chairman of the Heritage Development Board, who is spearheading the work on commemorations of local histories.
But ironically, for the BJP this too has a political significance. In the case of Auwa, the revolt was led by the Rajput chieftains. And the BJP hopes this commemoration will have a ripple effect on other voters as well.
“Today we all feel a sense of pride,” said a local villager after the inauguration of the memorial.
The shift in the Rajput vote had cost the BJP dearly in the by-elections where the party lost all three seats – two Lok Sabha and one Vidhan Sabha – in February. The BJP is now trying to reach out to the Rajput voters, by recalling their contribution in history.
With the battle for Rajasthan neck-and-neck so far, the BJP cannot afford to let go of this traditional vote bank that’s about 9 to 11 per cent of the population and impacts about 50 to 60 seats in the state.