A group of farmers are too engrossed in a game of cards at a dhaba on the dilapidated Dausa-Sawai Madhopur highway in eastern Rajasthan to get drawn into any conversation.
But drop one adverse comment about their ‘Doctor Saheb’, Dausa MP and popular leader of the Meena community Kirori Lal Meena’s fate in the upcoming assembly polls and they start to bristle.
“Dr Saheb will emerge as the king or the kingmaker. No one will be able to stop him from becoming chief minister if the third front manages to get 30 to 40 seats,” says the leader of the group, Tiranji Lal Meena.
The caste factor plays a dominant role in Rajasthan politics. Barring the Rajputs, who support the BJP, the Jats and Gujjars are divided between the Congress and BJP.
The Meenas support Dr Saheb, while the lower castes and Muslims support the Congress.
And any political party that can use this caste metrics to its advantage can swing the election in its favour.
Even though the contentious issue of quota between the Gujjars and Meenas is far from resolved, Tiranji Lal and gang believe Gujjar leader Col Kirori Singh Bainsala might join the non-existent third front despite his pro-BJP leanings.
Till a few months ago, pollsters were predicting that former CM and BJP leader Vasundhara Raje Scindia would sail through the assembly polls.
Then came two positive developments in both parties, upping the intensity and complexity of the battle and increasing chances of a hung house.
In the case of the BJP, the announcement of Narendra Modi as the party’s PM candidate helped iron out factional feuds that were till then afflicting the party.
As for the ruling Congress, its prospects looked up once more after current CM Ashok Gehlot stubbed the anti-incumbency wave with a slew of welfare schemes, the most popular being the free distribution of medicines for the poor.
But both parties face the gigantic task of ticket distribution because only the right candidate can enhance their charisma and party’s conquest.
Vinay Joshi, a shopkeeper in Dausa, known locally for his accurate analysis of elections, predicts: “It will be a repeat of 2008, only this time the BJP will be slightly ahead of the Congress.
Rajasthan, typically known for delivering clear verdicts, had thrown a fractured mandate in the last assembly elections.
In 2008, as the Congress with 96 legislators in a house of 200 came close to the magic figure of 101, Ashok Gehlot effortlessly got an invite from Raj Bhawan to form the government.
The six BSP legislators had sent in their support letters to Gehlot much before Mayawati could congratulate them on his victory.
The state had faced a similar verdict in 1993 when the BJP fell short of six members and in 1990, when the BJP, with the highest tally, had ended at 85 (it was then in alliance with the Janata Dal).
CPI(M) leader Atul Kumar Anjan says, “The Congress bought BSP MLAs to form the government. They were short of simple majority even in 2008.”
With all this talk of a possible hung house, there is a growing perception that the tally of Independents and smaller parties may go up from 26 in 2008 to 30 plus in 2013.
Leaders like Dr Chandra Shekhar Singhvi, former president of JD(U), which won one seat in 2008, says nonchalantly, “Maine 15 seats harane ka contract liya hai (I have taken contract to defeat the Congress in 15 seats). Who will form the government would depend on the advance booking of Independent legislators because they will go with power.”