Rajasthan: The Congress takes the fight back to the BJP

In at least half the first-phase seats, I.N.D.I.A. candidates are giving Messrs Modi, Shah and the BJP a few uneasy nights

Congress leader Sachin Pilot (centre) campaigns in Sikar on behalf of Amra Ram of the CPM, one of the INDIA allies in Rajasthan (photo courtesy @harsh2024/X)
Congress leader Sachin Pilot (centre) campaigns in Sikar on behalf of Amra Ram of the CPM, one of the INDIA allies in Rajasthan (photo courtesy @harsh2024/X)

Prakash Bhandari

BJP leaders—including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah—who in their earlier campaign were asking the people to vote for a BJP hattrick seemed to have toned down the rhetoric.

Large numbers of the electorate are clearly signalling a different mood this time, and it seems BJP leaders are starting to realise that visions of a clean sweep of Rajasthan can only be a mirage.

The state goes to the polls for 12 seats—Jaipur, Jaipur (rural), Sriganganagar (SC), Bikaner (SC), Churu, Jhunjhunu, Sikar, Alwar,  Nagaur, Bharatpur (SC), Dausa (ST) and Karauli–Dholpur (SC)—in the first phase, on 19 April. In half a dozen of these seats, the Congress and the other INDIA bloc parties are giving the BJP nightmares.

The BJP has been trying to cash in on Hindutva, the Ram Mandir issue and  Modi's personal charisma; but now its leaders seem to suddenly be on the defensive and the electorate's interest seems to be captured by the INDIA allies instead.

The people don't seem to have liked the sound of the BJP's hat trick and clean sweep here. In Churu, Dausa, Nagaur, Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Sriganganagar and Jaipur (rural) in particular, the unity showcased by the INDIA bloc has seemed convincing.

In Churu, the Congress even managed to convince the sitting BJP MP, Rahul Kaswan, who joined the grand old party after the BJP denied him a ticket. The Congress has put him up as a candidate against the BJP's new nominee, paralympic gold medalist Devendra Jhajharia. Kaswan already has the backing of the Jat community, though his opponent is also one of them. Effectively, the BJP leaders have ensured Jhajharia’s defeat in Churu. 

In the adjoining Jhunjhunu seat—home of the Birlas, Piramals, Rungtas, Morarkas, Maheshwaris and a number of big businessmen—Congress candidate Brijendra Singh Ola (son of late Union minister Shish Ram Ola) has the support of a large number of ex-servicemen. And that's not counting the serving army personnel from the region, who will cast their votes by postal ballot.

The Jhunjhunu seat was won by Narendra Kumar in 2019, who was made to contest the Assembly election too and lost. The BJP then nominated Shubhkaran Choudhary for the Lok Sabha polls. But Ola is the stronger, more formidable candidate and is also the sitting Congress MLA from Jhunjhunu with a very large following. 

In Sikar, the INDIA candidate is Amra Ram, three-time CPM MLA. He is pitted against Swami Sumedhanand Saraswati, who has won this seat twice too. But Saraswati, who is from Haryana, is being opposed by the Jats. There were numerous aspirants for a BJP ticket from the Jat community who were overlooked in favour of the swami. Now these agitated Jat leaders are working against Saraswati.

Ram, meanwhile, has been a labour leader and enjoys a very clean image. He is supported by Pradesh Congress president Govind Singh Dotasara, who is also from Sikar district. The infighting in the BJP should favour him.

In the SC-reserved seat of Sriganganagar, the BJP has fielded a woman: Priyanka Balian, an MBA. She stands against Congress candidate Kuldeep Indora. Balian replaces three-time winner Nihal Chand for the BJP. Here again, dissent on Balian's candidature and in-fighting within the BJP are helping the Congress. Moreover, Indora is seen as an experienced leader of considerable organisational capacity. He has knit together a strong team, thought to be capable of delivering the goods.

In Dausa, a seat reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, the Congress candidate is Murari Lal Meena. His campaign is being managed by Sachin Pilot himself, the former deputy chief minister. He poses a sizeable problem for the BJP candidate, former MLA Kanhaiya Lal Meena. 

Kanhaiya Lal is a BJP veteran but was denied a ticket for the Assembly election. He depends on the influence of his community leader Dr Kirodi Lal Meena. But Kirodi Lal, who is considered a strong leader of the Meena community and who is a minister in Bhajan Lal Sharma’s cabinet, has found his popularity dwindling in the community of late.

In Dausa, Sachin Pilot’s active campaigning should help the Congress get the Gujjar votes as well as those of other communities, including the Scheduled Castes. There is going to be a split in the Meena votes, but the Congress candidate is likely to scrape through.

In the Jat heartland of Nagaur, which was once a Congress domain, the grand old party has not put up its own candidate this time, choosing instead to support the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party’s Hanuman Beniwal. Beniwal had won the seat in 2019, when his party worked out an alliance with the BJP. Beniwal defeated Jyoti Mirdha, the granddaughter of Jat patriarch Nathu Ram Mirdha, by a small margin at the time.

However, Jyoti Mirdha joined the BJP in last November’s Vidhan Sabha election and contested from the Nagaur Assembly seat, where she lost to Congress candidate Harendra Mirdha, son of the late Ram Niwas Mirdha. But despite this loss, Jyoti has been given a Lok Sabha ticket by the BJP. She is, however, finding the going tough, as Beniwal is a strong Jat leader though he is the lone member of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party to be in the Vidhan Sabha.

As for Jyoti Mirdha, if anything, joining the BJP has lost her the electorate's trust, as they always saw her as belonging to the Congress family in these parts.

In Jaipur (rural), the contest is between youth leader Anil Chopra of the Congress and Rao Rajendra Singh of the BJP. Singh, a former deputy Speaker has spent Rs 59 lakh on his campaign, the highest we know of ahead of the polls; but Chopra, despite his meagre resources, is giving him a run for his money. The Jaipur (rural) constituency has a large number of Jat voters, who will likely vote in favour of Chopra.

This time, the Rajputs are unhappy with the BJP as the community was ignored in their ticket disbursement. Moreover, the caustic comment of Union minister Parshottam Rupala against the Kshatriyas of Gujarat has also annoyed the Rajputs in both Rajasthan and in Uttar Pradesh. The Rajputs in Rajasthan have traditionally sided with the BJP. But this time, in Jaipur, the community seems to be turning up in support of Congress candidate Pratap Singh Khachariyawas in Jaipur.

If the support extended to Khachariyawas, who is contesting against Manju Sharma, is any indication, the Rajput rage could cause immense harm to Rao Rajendra Singh in the Jaipur (rural) seat as well.

In the chief minister’s own district of Bharatpur, the BJP has passed over the sitting MP and fielded Ramswaroop Koli, who has a criminal record to his name. This SC-reserved constituency has become a hot seat, with the Congress fielding Sanjana Jatav, an youth icon here.

In the last SC-reserved seat, that of Karauli–Dholpur, Congress veteran and former minister Bhajan Lal Jatav is looking too strong for the BJP's Indu Devi Jatav. The Congress fared well in the last Assembly elections in  Dholpur district, and the Congress MLA from Rajakhera, Rohit Bohra, is confident that the Congress will win this seat with ease as there is no 'Modi wave' in evidence in the constituency.

In the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls on 19 April, a total of 2.53 crore voters will cast their votes. Of these, almost 1.33 crore voters are male and  1.2 crore are female; there should be 304 third-gender voters too. Amongst the 114 candidates in the fray. sadly, only 12 are women.

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