Election campaigning has come a long way in Rajasthan since 1952. What used to be a camel-ride-jeep-drive affair then has graduated to sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and choppers now.
But, a Gandhian named Sawai Singh says money has become a major factor in elections now. "Muscle power is being used openly. I do not think Mahatma Gandhi may ever have imagined that the leaders in our democratic setup will be elected on the basis of caste lines and money-muscle power."
Villager used to throng the jeep of Tan Singh, founder of Kshatriya Yuvak Sangh and candidate of Swatantra Party in Barmer whenever he would pass through the hamlets for campaigning. Tan Singh won consecutive terms in the state assembly in 1952 and 1957. Another stalwart Bhairon Singh Shekhawat used camels to campaign in his first election.
"There were no roads connecting so Shekhawat used to visit villages in his constituency Dataramgarh on camels. Many times we used to walk for many kilometres to reach the villages for campaign, people used to wait for him for hours to listen his speeches." Bajrang Dhabai an old associate and friend of Shekhawat said.
The first Rajasthan legislative assembly (1952-57) was inaugurated on March 31, 1952. It had strength of 160 members. The strength became 200 from the sixth (1977-1980) onwards.
Till 1980s Rajasthan used to have mobile polling booths in districts like Jaisalmer and Barmer where the population was too sparse to establish a permanent booth.
Earlier money and muscle power was the not considered the strength even in the eastern districts where ruckus was common during elections. "I belong to the family which has dominated the politics of Dholpur since 1952. The Chambal ravines were never considered safe for anybody, but the people to people-to-people contact and social connect were the key to success in election till 1980s," said Ritesh Sharma Chairman of Dholpur Municipal Corporation.
The community used to vote in tandem for their chosen candidates but not on the caste lines. "Swatantra party had a major say in elections in Rajasthan before the arrival of Jan Sangh and Janata Party. The election used to be fought among the community not among castes. The social affiliation of various castes and their dependency on each other used to decide the election results. But now it has become a completely caste-based game. Many of the seats in western Rajasthan were won by Swatantra Party as Rajputs got support of SCs and other backward castes against Congress," Mahendra Singh Rathore, BJP leader from Shergarh in Jodhpur said.