With the mercury touching 45-46 degree celsius, the people of the desert constituency of Barmer seemed to be winking at the scorching sun as they braved the heat to come and exercise their franchise where Congress candidate Manvendra Singh was in fray in the first phase of election in Rajasthan for 13 seats.
The fielding of Manvendra Singh from Barmer and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s son, Vaibhav Gehlot, from Jodhpur has made the contest very interesting this time around.
What was surprising that despite being a desert seat where one can see just sand spread over hundreds of miles, the turnout was the highest in the state at 73.21 per cent. This was the best ever turnout in the constituency’s history.
Rajasthan, as a whole, too, witnessed its highest ever turnout at 68.22 per cent figure against the 2014 figure of 63.1 per cent.
“This substantial jump suggests that the people who voted for the BJP in 2014 under the influence of the Modi wave have chosen a different path this time with the Congress in power in the state. The people came out in the big numbers to vote for the Congress and this is the reason why the voting percentage has increased dramatically,” said Raghu Sharma, health minister in Ashok Gehlot’s state cabinet.
The pre-poll campaign by the Congress in the 13 constituencies was not as intense except in Barmer and Jodhpur, the two key constituencies. The BJP spent far more lavishly on the campaign than the Congress. The Congress candidates lacked the resources despite the party ruling the state. But Congress avoided extravagance and focussed on door-to-door campaigns.
“We did not rake up local issues and the Congress went on to stress on the party’s manifesto that has promised Rs 6,000 to each poor family. This went very well and the people reacted positively to the promises made in the manifesto. The BJP played the caste card and we showed magnanimity by fielding two STs from Kota and Sawaimadhopur-Tonk seats to show that the Congress is above caste politics. It paid well and the party did well in both Kota and Sawaimadhopur-Tonk,” said Archana Sharma, Congress spokesperson.
She said in both seats, traditional archrivals Gujjars and Meenas came together. In Sawaimadhopur-Tonk, they favoured Congress candidate and former Union Minister Namo Narayan Meena and in Kota, they backed former Deputy Speaker Ram Narayan Meena, she added.
The Mewar region is a stronghold of the BJP because of Gulab Chand Kataria, the towering BJP leader of Udaipur. But in the tribal reserved seat of Banswara-Dungarpur, the Congress took the advantage of the presence of the Bhartiya Bhil Party that in the Vidhan Sabha election had won two reserved seats. This time the presence of the BTP party harmed the BJP more than the Congress and the BTP cut into BJP votes and Tara Chand Bhagora, the three-time Congress MP, may emerge as the winner, many say.
Similar is the scene in the Udaipur (ST-reserved seat) where Congress candidate Raghuveer Meena is sitting pretty.
In the key constituency of Jodhpur, Vaibhav Gehlot, thanks to active campaigning by Ashok Gehlot, should turn the tables on sitting BJP leader Gajendra Singh Shekhawat with large scale Jat, Bishnoi and Muslim votes in his favour.
Thus the Congress is expected to perform better in the western Rajasthan seats. At Nagaur where the BJP had an understanding with the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party’s leader Hanuman Beniwal, who is in the fray, Jyoti Mirdha looks the favourite.
Congress goes to the next phase on May 6, where the contest will be in 12 seats.