Lok Sabha polls 2019: BJP betrays lack of confidence in Rajasthan

As the state prepares to elect its representatives for the next Lok Sabha, here’s a look at where the two rival parties, Congress and the BJP stand

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Sunny Sebastian

The Lok Sabha elections pose a big challenge to both the main political parties, the Congress and the BJP, in Rajasthan. For the Congress, the occasion is a chance to reiterate the mandate it received from the 4.86 crore voters of the state in the November Assembly elections while, for the BJP, the task ahead appears to retain at least a portion of the 25 seats it had won in Rajasthan in the 2014. The bravado over air strikes on terrorist camps inside Pakistan notwithstanding, for the BJP, the coming elections are anyway a losing proposition.

That is because the BJP, as it is elsewhere in the Hindi heartland as of now, is bound to lose seats. The challenge before that party is to hold on to at least a fraction of the existing seats in the face of the country-wide turbulence over growing unemployment and overall disaffection with the government. The obvious signs of BJP faltering in Rajasthan were visible in the party’s indecisiveness over the choice of candidates. It took much more time for the BP to decide on its candidates than its rival, the Congress, and the dilemma was obvious as the party had to do drop some of its sitting MPs, including one Union Minister.

After much wavering and prevarication, the party decided to drop six of its sitting MPs. Out of the sitting members, Rajsamand MP Hari Om Singh had opted out of the race. In his place, the party parachuted the scion of the former Jaipur family and former BJP MLA, Diya Kumari, as candidate. The BJP has retained its Baba MP from Sikar, Sumedhanand Saraswati, and has brought in yet another sadhu, Baba Balaknath. This way, the presumed quota for the sadhu-sants in the BJP is retained at 8 per cent

Ironically, the allocation for women is only slightly more with tickets to three women — that is, 12 per cent — Jaskaur Meena (Dausa), Ranjeeta Koli (Bharatpur) besides Diya Kumari. Though a shade better than the BJP, the Congress too has not been liberal with nomination of women. The party has given tickets to four women -Jyoti Khandelwal (Jaipur), Krishna Poonia (Jaipur Rural), Savita Meena (Dausa-ST) and Jyoti Mirdha (Nagaur). Jyoti Mirdha is a former MP from Nagaur while Jyoti Khandelwal is former Mayor of Jaipur who was elected directly.

There are no Muslims among the BJP candidates while the Congress’ lone Muslim candidate is in Churu — Rafiq Mandelia who is pitted against sitting BJP MP Rahul Kaswan. In fact, by the time the Lok Sabha elections were announced, the tally of the BJP had come down to 22 seats from the initial 25. This was because the sitting MPs in Ajmer and Alwar had died and in the by-elections held in 2018, the Congress had won both. Another party MP, Harish Meena, had quit the BJP prior to the Assembly elections in November 2018 to fight the state polls on the Congress ticket.

The BJP took maximum time to announce the candidate from Dausa. The name of Jaskaur Meena, former MP from Sawai Madhopur, was cleared as recently as April 14, eight days after the announcement of the rest of the party candidates. After the sudden exit of Harish Meena, the party had to look for a new person and the senior leader, Kirorilal Meena, who had returned to the BJP after a long gap, wanted the ticket for his wife and former minister in the Congress government, Golma Devi. Omprakash Hudla, the party rebel who had won as an Independent in the recent Assembly election, was also a strong aspirant.

However, Jaskaur Meena, who had the support of former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, finally clinched the deal. “It took lot of time for the BJP to decide on the candidates and that gave the Congress a head start. Early announcement of the candidates provides more time for campaign as well as settling the disputes with others in the party, if any,” notes Professor Sanjay Lodha of the Department of Political Science, Mohanlal Sukhadia University, Udaipur. “I would also add that the social profiles of the Congress candidates are wider and more representative in nature than that of the BJP,” Lodha, who is also associated with CSDS, said.

When it comes to the BJP, what perhaps exposes the chinks in its armour is the alliance it has entered into with the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP), founded by its one time rebel Hanuman Beniwal less than six months back. Despite Raje’s opposition, the party allocated the Nagaur seat to RLP which was earlier trying to negotiate with the Congress. It is for the first time in the past two decades or so in Rajasthan that either BJP or the Congress has given any seat to another party in alliance in the Lok Sabha election. The party dropped CR Chaudhary, who is the Union Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, to accommodate Beniwal, Raje’s bete noire.

“It could also be perhaps interpreted that the Congress, by not aligning with the potential allies like the BSP or the Bharatiya Tribal Party, has shown its confidence while the BJP, by granting one seat to RLTP, betrayed its sense of insecurity in the current poll scene in Rajasthan,” Lodha pointed out.

When it comes to the Congress, the highlights of its list include the party fielding ace sportswoman and MLA Krishna Poonia from Jaipur Rural against sitting MP and Union Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore and allotting ticket to Vaibhav Gehlot, son of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, from Jodhpur to fight Union Minister of State Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. The entry of businessman Riju Jhunjhunwala, son-in-law of former Minister Bina Kak, as a Congress candidate from Ajmer is a surprise this time.

The Congress has also given ticket to two former BJP MPs who joined the party recently — Manavendra Singh, son of former Union Minister Jaswant Singh, from Barmer and Subhash Maharia, former Union Minister, from Sikar. Manavendra Singh had fought unsuccessfully in the recent Assembly elections against Vasundhara Raje in Jhalrapatan. The party has also fielded former BJP leader Pramod Sharma in Jhalawar against Dushyant Singh, sitting MP and son of Raje.

The elections are scheduled in two phases in Rajasthan with 13 seats going to the polls in the first phase on April 29. Polling in the remaining 12 will take place on May 6. Besides the BJP and the Congress, the BSP - which secured six seats in the recent Assembly polls - has so far fielded 12 candidates and the CPI(M), which won two Assembly seats, has candidates fighting from three.

As such, the trend in Rajasthan in the past two decades had been that the party which came to power in the state improved upon its own performance in the Lok Sabha. In the present case, there is certain ambivalence on this count taking into account the possible impact of the airstrikes. Going by the general atmosphere in the state, it is the basic issues of subsistence, survival and jobs - like income for farmers, jobs for the youth and safety and security for the Tribals, Dalits and the minorities - which are the greater poll issues.

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