Lok Sabha polls: BJP gets ready to sweat it out in Rajasthan

Perturbed by the low voter turnout in phase 1, the BJP has asked candidates for phase 2 to ensure a larger turnout

Sachin Pilot with Congress candidate Harish Meena (right) in Tonk (photo: @SachinPilot/X)
Sachin Pilot with Congress candidate Harish Meena (right) in Tonk (photo: @SachinPilot/X)

Prakash Bhandari

The relatively low voter turnout of about 58 per cent in the first phase of voting in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in 12 seats of Rajasthan has reportedly caused grave concern among the BJP top brass, as these seats recorded about 68 per cent polling in 2019. A perturbed leadership has asked party candidates in the remaining 13 seats, which go to the polls on 26 April, to ensure that a larger number of people turn up to vote.

The 13 seats — Tonk-Sawaimadhopur, Ajmer, Pali, Jodhpur, Barmer, Jalore, Udaipur (reserved), Banswara-Dungarpur (reserved), Chittorgarh, Rajsamand, Bhilwara and Kota-Jhalawar — together comprise roughly 2.81 crore voters, of whom about 1.45 crore are men and 1.36 crore women. Barring two seats, the rest will see a direct contest.

State Congress president Govind Singh Dotasara struck a positive note. “The BJP understands that there is no Modi wave in the state, hence the low turnout. On the other hand, committed Congress voters defied the heat to come and vote. Our feedback says the Congress in the first phase is well placed in more than half the 12 seats, and we go to the second phase with far more enthusiasm and vigour. I can tell you the BJP should prepare for a surprise.

"Because they won all the 25 seats in the last two elections, the chief minister and all star speakers of the BJP, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, have been asking people to deliver a hat-trick. But the people will prove that a hat-trick is a mirage. The recent speeches by Modi in Rajasthan and other places saw no mention of “abki baar 400 paar (beyond 400 this time)," Dotasara said.

Sure enough, local BJP leaders, possibly having gauged the mood of the people, are no longer talking about a 'hat-trick'.

On the other hand, chief minister Bhajan Lal Sharma claims that the low polling will not affect the chances of the BJP in the 13 seats. "I agree that the polling was low, because of the heat and also because it is marriage season. But committed BJP voters, particularly those who trust PM Modi’s capabilities, came and voted for us. There is no reason for any fear or disappointment,” he has said.

Sharma's predecessors, Ashok Gehlot of the Congress and Vasundhara Raje Scindia of the BJP, are themselves not contesting, but are actively campaigning for their sons Vaibhav Gehlot and Dushyant Singh in Jalore-Sirohi and Jhalawar-Baran respectively.

In Jalore-Sirohi, people have already dubbed Gehlot's campaign as a "war" against the Modi government. "The election scene here is very interesting, it's basically Modi vs Gehlot. Gehlot’s intense campaigning has improved his son’s prospects in the (predominantly rural) seat,” said Abhay Singh Rajpurohit, a postgraduate student.

Jalore-Sirohi is the constituency from where the late Congress leader and Union home minister Buta Singh won thrice, and Sushila Bangaru, wife of late BJP president Bangaru Laxman, won once.

While Gehlot also campaigned in other constituencies ahead of the first phase on 19 April, Vasundhara Raje has confined herself to Jhalawar-Baran, apparently in protest against being ignored by her party. Her son Dushyant Singh is trying to equal his mother's record with five consecutive wins, which she pulled off before shifting to state politics and becoming chief minister.

Dushyant’s rival is Urmila Jain Bhaya, wife of Pramod Jain Bhaya, a minister in Gehlot’s cabinet. In 2009, Urmila contested against Dushyant and lost by a mere 52,000 votes. Her husband is handling her electioneering this time, and the tough challenge she poses to Dushyant is part of the reason his mother is campaigning so actively for him.

Meanwhile, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla is facing an unprecedented and unexpectedly stiff challenge from Prahlad Gunjal of the Congress in Kota-Bundi. “It’s the fiercest battle Kota has ever seen, where a last-minute entrant from the BJP like Prahlad Gunjal is giving Birla such a tough fight.  Gunjal is expected to get many rural votes, and if he gets even 50 per cent of the urban votes, he could pull off a win,” said Utsav Babel, a young businessman.

Two Union ministers — jal shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (Jodhpur) and Union minister of state Kailash Choudhary (Barmer) are locked in fierce contests of their own. Shekhawat is facing Karan Singh, also a Rajput. In 2019, he defeated Vaibhav Gehlot by a margin of over 2 lakh votes, and this time, as in 2014, his rival is also a Rajput. Thus, because of the split in Rajput votes, any candidate who has the support of other communities would be a winner.

In Barmer, the contest is triangular, with Choudhry up against Congress' Ummeda Ram Beniwal and Independent MLA Ravindra Singh Bhati. Both Choudhry and Ummeda Ram are Jat, and it is likely that the very large number of Jat votes in this border seat will split. Bhati is unlikely to get the support of the Jats, and is totally banking on Rajput votes.

Former Union minister and Vidhan Sabha Speaker C.P. Joshi is contesting the Bhilwara seat, where his rival is the BJP's Damodar Agarwal. Joshi has returned to the constituency after 15  years, while Agarwal, an RSS worker who the party preferred to sitting MP Subhash Baheria, won by a massive margin of over 5 lakh votes in 2019.

One of the star campaigners for the Congress has been former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, and his active participation has resulted in the Gujjars and Meenas uniting for the Congress. His late father Rajesh Pilot was known for similarly uniting the two communities, but the relationship between the two turned bitter following the Gujjar agitation on reservations. However, Sachin has been able to bring them together on the same platform .

This is likely to help the Congress in Tonk-Sawaimadhopur, Dausa, Bhilwara, Rajsamand and Ajmer. Himself a Gujjar, Sachin has opposed the presence of Sukhbir Singh Jaunapuriya, a rich Gujjar from Delhi, who won Tonk-Sawaimadhopur for the BJP twice. But this time, Congress MLA and former DGP Harish Meena is giving him a tough fight.

In Dausa, a reserved ST constituency, Murarilal Meena of the Congress enjoys an edge over his BJP rival Kanhaiya Lal Meena. Notably, highly respected Meena leader Dr Kirori Lal Meena, a Cabinet minister in the BJP government, seems to be having trouble convincing his own community to extend total support to the BJP, failing to attract large enough crowds to his rallies.

In Ajmer, the BJP has fielded Jat community representative Bhagirath Choudhry, the sitting MP who was also fielded in the Assembly election six months ago and lost. So his choice is a bit of a surprise. He is facing Ram Chandra Choudhry of the Congress, another Jat, who has worked among farmers and is known for his contribution to the local dairy sector.

The lake city of Udaipur is known for the large number of tourists that it attracts. But as this seat is reserved, the urban voters have always been lukewarm, and electioneering can be seen only in rural areas. Tarachand Meena, who served as the collector of Udaipur, has been fielded by the Congress as he is very popular in the district. His rival is Mannalal Meena of the BJP.

In Rajsamand, the BJP candidate is Mahima Visheswar Singh, wife of Udaipur royal family scion Vishvaraj Singh, against Damodar Gujjar of the Congress. Mahima Singh, who reportedly traces her origins to the erstwhile royal family of Panchakot in Purulia district of West Bengal, was also apparently on the radar of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who was keen to field her as the Trinamool Congress candidate from Purulia, but she chose Rajsamand instead.

Mahndra Singh Malviya, a former minister in the Ashok Gehlot cabinet, changed his loyalty by resigning his Bagidora Assembly seat and joining the BJP, only to face the wrath of the Bhil community. The Bhil leader is facing  Arvind Damor of the Congress and Rajkumar Rot of the Bhartiya Adivasi Party. But people are accusing him of being an 'aaya Ram gaya Ram (here today, gone tomorrow)', and despite PM Modi himself campaigning for him, he is finding the going fairly tough.

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Published: 24 Apr 2024, 9:19 PM