Manvendra vs Raje: A story of revenge unfolds in Rajasthan

The Congress’ decision to field Manvendra Singh from Jhalrapatan came as a surprise even to him. Suddenly, Jhalarapatan has become the hot seat in the electoral theatre of Rajasthan

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Prakash Bhandari

Its blood for blood in Rajasthan. Manvendra Singh, the sitting MLA from Sheo in the border district of Barmer, who recently defected from the BJP to the Congress is pitted against the present Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje on her home turf of Jhalrapatan. The Congress has strategically fielded the son of the former Union Minister Jaswant Singh from this seat of the opium growing Jhalawar district of the Hadauti region from where Vasundhara Raje was elected thrice to the Vidhan Sabha. Vasundhara Raje has been elected to the Lok sabha from the Jhalawar constituency on five occasions and her son Dushyant Singh now represents this seat in the Lok Sabha.

The decision to field Manvendra Singh from  Jhalrapatan came as a surprise even to Manvendra Singh, who has been shifted from the arid to the poppy growing land. Suddenly, Jhalarapatan has become the hot seat in the electoral theatre of Rajasthan and this move is being seen by political observers and the Rajput community in particular as a revenge battle. In 2014, Jaswant Singh, a tall figure in the BJP who held, finance, foreign and defence portfolios in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was suddenly denied the ticket to contest the Lok Sabha election from Barmer in 2014.

It was a calculated conspiracy of some of the BJP’s strategists, who wanted to keep Jaswant Singh away from the national spotlight then. It is believed that at the instance of the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi, some of the BJP leaders decided to keep Jaswant Singh away as he was a known detractor of Modi and would have remained a nagging pain for Modi who had his eyes set on the prime ministership.

Vasundhara as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan played a key role in this grand conspiracy as the local facilitator. This denial of ticket to Jaswant was followed by the induction of then sitting Congress MP from Barmer, Col Sonaram Choudhry into the BJP fold. Col Choudhry in the intense Modi wave defeated Jaswant Singh, who contested as an independent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

At that time Manvendra Singh, who once represented Barmer in the Lok Sabha was the BJP MLA from Sheo constituency. After that Manavendra Singh was relegated and lost his identity even as a BJP  MLA. But he did not quit the party. He waited for the appropriate time and when Vasundhara Raje began her Gaurav Yatra, Manvendra made his rebellious attitude public and quit the saffron brigade.

“When I quit the BJP, I had said it was a bhool (mistake) to join phool (the flower. The lotus flower is the party symbol of the BJP). I had then decided not to contest the Assembly election and to stake the claim for candidature in the next year’s Lok sabha election from Barmer. But during my meeting with the Congress President Rahul Gandhi, he insisted that I should contest the Assembly election against Vasundharaji. I had to obey the orders of my commander”, said the Lt Col of the Territorial Army.

Jaswant Singh, who is ailing now and is bedridden had himself sprung surprise when he was elected as the BJP nominee from Darjeeling in the year 2008.

“Jaswant Singh was elected from Darjeeling as the Gorkhas supported him and now his son Manvendra will be elected from Jhalrapatan”, said Sanwat Singh Bhati of Barmer

The announcement to field Manvendra Singh, who was in Jodhpur came on the day Vasundhara Raje filed her nomination joined by large crowd of her supporter at the district headquarter of Jhalawar.

Reacting to the nomination of Manvendra Singh, Vasundhara raje had said that the Congress could find nobody to field against her and made Manvendra the scapegoat.

Once the party had fielded the PCC president Sachin Pilot’s mother Rama Pilot from Jhalawar, but she lost the Lok sabha election. It is the second outsider that Raje is facing in her home turf.

Vasundhara Raje is married into the royal family of Dholpur and at one stage she was trying to shift from Jhalrapatan to Rajakhera in her home district of Dholpur. But this would have jeopardised the political future of her son Dushyant Singh as like the mother, the son was also a rank outsider to Jhalawar which was the principality of the Jhala kigdom. The Jhalawar royal family lost interest in politics after one of the ruler Raja Harish Chandra, who was a minister in the Congress government in the state proved to be a failure in politics.

Late Inderjit Singh, the former ruler of Jhalawar, who studied with Rajiv Gandhi in Doon School had no interest in poilitics. Rajiv Gandhi urged him to join the Congress and contest from Jhalawar but he refused. Jhalawar has been giving refuge to the rulers from other princely states and on three occasions the scion of the Kota royal family Brijraj Singh was elected from Jhalawar to Lok Sabha.

Vasundhara was sent to Jhalawar by the then BJP patriarch Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and she made it her permanent political abode which the locals resented.

Jhalrapatan has sizeable number of Sondhia Rajputs  and also Muslims and Manvendra Singh depends on the support of the local Rajputs and the Muslims.

In 2007, Jaswant Singh’s wife Sheetal Kunwar had filed a case in a Jodhpur court against the  portrayal of the then Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje as Goddess Annapurna. She had alleged that a poster with these images hurt her religious sentiments which was a crime in legal terms. Ever since then Vasundhara Raje and Jaswant Singh were at loggerheads and when Narendra Modi and his supporters hatched the conspiracy to keep out Jaswant Singh from the national political scene, Vasundhara Raje was more than willing to help them as a part of her revenge on Jaswant Singh.

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