On 16 February, two days after the attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy killed 49 personnel in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district, Kailash Meena sent a message on a WhatsApp group he was part of. The group was called “Patan newsgroup” and included journalists, local government officials, lawyers and activists from in and around Patan, a block in Rajasthan’s Sikar district. The message, which was in Hindi, can be loosely translated as—“In Berlin, Hitler burned the German parliament and blamed the communists. After dealing with them, Hitler scrapped elections and became a dictator.” The message raised a storm on the group. One member said that “bad elements” had infiltrated the group and called the message “anti-national.” He also identified Meena as the author of the message and said he was considering filing a case of sedition against Meena. Meena was soon removed from the group and asked to tender an apology. He refused.
“For them, the nation consists of just the border. But for me the nation consists of the people who live inside those borders and their constitutional rights,” Meena told me when I met him in Sikar recently. He is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, an umbrella organisation of civil society movements, and hails from a community called “Chowkidar Meena”—which translates as “Watchmen Meena.” The community’s name comes from their traditional caste occupation. “We are the original chowkidars, not these fake chowkidars on social media,” he said, referring to the prime minister Narendra Modi and his supporters, many of whom call themselves the “chowkidars” of India.
In the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaigns for the ongoing general elections have centred on Narendra Modi and what some are terming his brand of “muscular nationalism.” As Rajasthan geared up for its second phase of polling, I travelled to Jhunjhunu and Sikar—two of the 12 constituencies that will vote on 6 May. Jhunjhunu claims a distinction—the number of its residents that serve in the army and the paramilitary forces is the highest among all districts in India. Sikar, too, boasts of a substantial number of serving and retired servicemen. Part of the Shekhawati region in north Rajasthan, both these districts also share a history of farmers’ agitations stretching back to the colonial era. The two provided a microcosm of some tensions at play during this election—the steadily rising tide of agrarian distress and Modi's hyper-nationalist electoral narrative.