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BJP falls back on caste, confident Congress breaks away from it in Rajasthan

BJP has put up candidates of the dominant caste and has aligned with a Jat regional party. Congress on the other hand has sought to break the mould and put up Dalits, Muslims in general seats

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Congress President Rahul Gandhi (R)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Congress President Rahul Gandhi (R)

Prakash Bhandari

After the Congress victory in the 2018 Assembly polls, the BJP is finding the going tough in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP has opted to field candidates only on caste lines while the Congress has nominated candidates on merit.

With a view to winning the support of the Jats, a formidable community that has supported the Congress right from the 1952 election, the BJP has opted for electoral adjustment with the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) which is headed by BJP rebel Hanuman Beniwal. RLP won three seats in the Assembly election and two of its candidates lost narrowly.

Those were all Jats. But surely, the RLP harmed the prospects of the Congress candidates in five to six constituencies. The RLP is a party of the Jats and, with a view to woo the Jats, the BJP made electoral adjustments and supported the candidature of Beniwal from the Nagaur constituency, denying nomination to sitting BJP MP and Union Minister CR Choudhry. But despite this, the Congress is sitting pretty in the Marwar region which has a large number of Jat votes.

In the Assembly election, the Gujjars, a leading OBC community making up almost 15% of the population, wholeheartedly supported the Congress. Not a single Gujjar candidate of the BJP could win and the whole community voted for the Congress. The Gujjars hold the key in about 12 to 13 Lok Sabha seats and with a view to woo Gujjar votes, the BJP has lured Gujjar leader Col Kirori Singh Bainsla into its fold.

It was the Gehlot government that gave the Gujjars reservation as an OBC community, but Bainsla joined the BJP to the great annoyance of the agitating Gujjar community. This anger of the community would not help the BJP. Bainsla, in fact, contested the 2009 election from Sawai Madhopur-Tonk seat as a BJP candidate and lost to former DGP Namo Narayana Meena, a Meena, a Scheduled Tribe.

While the BJP indulges in caste politics, the Congress has fielded two Meenas from the two general seats of Kota and Sawai Madhopur-Tonk. They are strong candidates and could have been fielded from the ST reserved seats too. But the Congress fielded these two Meenas as both of them enjoy popularity, extending far beyond caste lines.

Similarly, the Congress has fielded Iqbal Mandelia from the Churu seat. The Muslim candidate will contest against Rahul Kanswan of the BJP.

In Jaipur, a Brahmin-dominated seat, the Congress has fielded a Vaishya, Jyoti Khandelwal, former mayor of Jaipur, against sitting BJP MP Ram Charan Bohra, a Brahmin. The Congress has also fielded Riju Jhunjhunwala, a textile industrialist of Bhilwara, to contest the Ajmer seat.

In Barmer constituency where Jats and Bishnois outnumber the Rajputs, the Congress has fielded Manvendra Singh, son of former Union Minister Jaswant Singh. Similarly in a Gujjar, Sondhiya and Meena-dominated constituency of Jhalawar, the home turf of Vasundhara Raje from where her son Dushyant Singh has been chosen for three consecutive time, the Congress has fielded Brahmin candidate Pramod Sharma.

While the BJP is counting on publicity, nationalism, religion and even politicisation of the armed forces, the Congress is banking on its manifesto that promises to marry wealth with welfare. The Congress government in the state has been able to make a significant impact in providing the promised loan waiver, unemployment allowance and other promises. It is banking on its manifesto to beat the BJP in the polls.

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