Vasundhara Raje has visited the Jhalrapatan assembly constituency only thrice in the run-up to the December 1 elections — for filing her nomination papers, to attend two rallies a week ago and on the last day of campaigning on Friday.
But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heavyweight’s son and Jhalawar MP Dushyant Singh has ensured that the former chief minister is seen without being present.
Giant hoardings and posters make sure that the Rajasthan BJP president is never out of sight or out of mind.
Raje has won the 2003 and 2008 assembly elections from Jhalrapatan in Jhalawar district. She represented the Jhalawar parliamentary constituency five consecutive times between 1989 and 2003.
In 2008, 68.79% of the then 209,603-strong Jhalrapatan electorate — 107,944 men and 101,659 women — had cast their ballot. Raje bagged 56.59% of the votes to defeat the Congress candidate Mohanlal Rathore.
This time her opponent in the December 1 elections is the Congress’ Meenakshi Chandrawat, a local who feels discontent is growing in Jhalrapatan, which now has 229,097 voters — 119,073 men and 110,024 women, over Raje’s elusiveness.
But the BJP is not afraid. “The responsibility of conducting her (Raje’s) campaigns is on the BJP. Jhalrapatan is her family,” Singh said.
Sanjay Rathore, a resident of Imli Gate in Jhalarapatan, is all praise for Raje. “She brought a railway line, Kali Sindh Thermal Power Station, a mini secretariat, medical and engineering colleges, and Kali Sindh Dam to Jhalarapatan.”
“Raje has also carried out civic projects such as concretisation of roads and drinking water projects. She deserves to win again,” he added.
Unlike Raje, Chandrawat has been running intense campaigns to overpower the heavyweight. She was elected as the Congress MLA from Khanpur (Jhalawar) in 1998.
But Chandrawat tasted defeat from Khanpur in the next two assembly polls. This time, however, she is getting support from party leaders such as ex-MLA Mohanlal Rathore and former ministers Iqbal Ahmad and Nafees Ahmad, among others.
“There is anguish among voters over Raje’s absence. But I was born and brought up in Jhalawar,” Chandrawat said, flagging her ‘local’ identity. “People are happy with the Congress-led state government’s development work,” she added.
Raje’s absence, however, has not gone unnoticed. Lalchand Raigar, a local resident, said, “Raje is inaccessible. She rarely visited Jhalrapatan in the last five years. It was even more difficult to meet her when she was the chief minister.”
Mohammad Idris, a shopkeeper at Garh Gate, accused Raje of not carrying out development work. “Raje has neither succeeded in bringing any factory to Jhalrapatan nor in improving the Jhalawar-Kota road.”
Another threat to Raje’s poll prospects is the rebellion by her former confidante, SN Gupta, and sitting BJP MLA from Khanpur, Anil Jain, after the latter was denied a party ticket from the constituency. Both Jain and Gupta have an influence in the trader community, whose vote is crucial.