Rajasthan elections: Where are the bureaucrats this time?

Retired bureaucrats look to enter the state polls, but are denied nominations by both the BJP and the Congress, highlighting electoral challenges

Former chief secretary Niranjan Arya is the Congress candidate from Sojat in Pali district in Rajasthan's upcoming elections (photo: @AryaNiranjanIAS/ X)
Former chief secretary Niranjan Arya is the Congress candidate from Sojat in Pali district in Rajasthan's upcoming elections (photo: @AryaNiranjanIAS/ X)

Prakash Bhandari

Between 1 November 2020 and 31 January 2022, Niranjan Arya became the first chief secretary of Rajasthan from a Scheduled Caste (SC) background. Appointed to head the state’s bureaucratic force by chief minister Ashok Gehlot, the Dalit bureaucrat superseded seven IAS officers senior to him.

During his three stints as chief minister, Gehlot can also take credit for having appointed the state's first woman chief secretary in Kushal Singh (2009); and two representatives of religious minorities, Salauddin Ahmed (2012) and CK Matthew (2013), to the post.

Arya, who belongs to the Dholi or drummer community from western Rajasthan, was made adviser to the chief minister and is contesting from the Sojat (reserved) seat in Pali district. Known for its quality limestone, Sojat is also famed for its herbal henna (mehndi) and its beautiful colour, used by women as a cosmetic in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Last year, Sojat henna received the geographical indication (GI) tag, largely owing to the efforts of Arya, which ensured that Sojat henna would henceforth be known as a quality product and the GI tag would also discourage surrogate products.

Arya is also the Rajasthan scouts and guides commissioner, and in January this year, hosted a jamboree in Rohat, a sleepy village in Pali district, which attracted a record-setting 37,000 participants.

Arya’s wife Sangeeta Arya, a member of the Rajasthan Public Service Commission, also contested from Sojat on a Congress ticket in 20013, but lost.

“I am grateful to the chief minister Shri Gehlot for fielding me as the Congress candidate. If elected, my endeavour would be for the economic development of  Sojat and ensure that the henna industry is organised properly and the henna is exported,” said Arya, who retired only last year.

Arya's rival will be the BJP’s sitting MLA Shobha Chauhan, who is distantly related to Arya. Chauhan’s husband RK Chauhan is a provincial service officer serving as joint secretary in the technical education department.

A number of former bureaucrats who have joined the Congress and BJP have expressed a desire to contest elections. Some even took voluntary retirement from service to join the fray.

The BJP gave a nomination to IAS officer Chandra Mohan Meena against IPS Laxman Meena of the Congress from Bassi (reserved). Laxman Meena won the 2018 election as an Independent, but later joined the Congress. In a fun aside, he and Chandra Mohan were classmates in school.

Retired DGP Harish Meena, brother of former Union minister Namo Narayan Meena, who was also a member of the Lok Sabha and is currently a Congress MLA, has been renominated from Uniara seat in Tonk district.  Similarly, Om Prakash Hudla, a sitting MLA from Mahuwa, and a former Indian Revenue Service officer, has been fielded by the Congress from Mahuwa again.

Among those candidates to not be renominated is retired IAS officer JP Chandelia from Pilani (reserved), where his performance was perceived as poor.

Retired officers who joined the Congress and were denied tickets include former divisional commissioner Hanuman Singh Bhati, a retired IAS officer, former IAS officers Bhanwar Lal Nawal (a Dalit), Kailash Verma, Satyapal Singh and Manoj Sharma, and suspended IAS officer Nanu Lal Pahadia, another Dalit. Yet another former IPS, Hari Prasad Sharma, who was the chairman of the Rajasthan Staff Selection Board and resigned his job to seek a Congress ticket from Phulera in Jaipur district, was denied one. Instead, the party asked them to go to their hometowns and campaign, and those found worthy would be considered for the Lok Sabha elections next year.

But the BJP has denied nominations to all former bureaucrats. The most to suffer was IAS Antar Singh Nehra, a former divisional commissioner of Jaipur who took voluntary retirement to join the BJP. But the saffron party has denied him a ticket.

Two retired IPS officers Sawai Singh Choudhry and Mahesh Bhardwaj, who also joined the BJP in the hope of a party nomination, were denied tickets too.

"Bureaucrats are people who may have acquired experience, but politics, that too electoral politics, is a different ball game and it's very difficult to succeed as a party nominee. The bureaucrats look for a political party to garner some favour in various boards and corporations, and join political parties only for re-employment opportunities with no genuine interest in serving people.

"The BJP rightly denied nominations to them and asked them to actively campaign for the party. Let's see how many undertake that ordeal," said BJP spokesperson Mukesh Pareek.

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