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Congress president Rahul Gandhi takes on CM Raje on her home turf

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s tour of remote corners of Dholpur has left the party leaders upbeat, many of whom say a big political show in CM Vasundhara Raje’s backyard has given the workers “moral strength” to take on the chief minister and her party after the massive defeat in the 2013 assembly elections, when the BJP won 163 of the 200 assembly seats.

rajasthan elections 2018 Updated: Oct 12, 2018 15:15 IST
Rakesh Goswami
Rakesh Goswami
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
Rahul Gandhi,Dholpur,Sonia Gandhi
Congress president Rahul Gandhi speaks at the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) National Executive in Jaipur. (PTI File )

Rahul Gandhi’s travels into the remote corners of Dholpur this week was a break from a tradition that even his arch rival Bharatiya Janata Party’s senior leaders have maintained for years.

Rahul’s mother and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi did visit Dholpur city in 2003, but it wouldn’t be until April 2017, when the bypolls to the assembly constituency came around, that senior leaders from both camps (chief minister Vasundhara Raje for the BJP and Sachin Pilot for the Congress) would set bases for weeks in Dholpur.

After the BJP’s win, Dholpur went back to being what many hold it as: “untouchable”, at least for senior, prominent political leaders. The chief minister’s 40-day ‘Rajasthan Gaurav Yatra’ that ended on October 2 covered over 6,000km in 165 constituencies across the state but without any stopover in Dholpur, her home turf where she is popularly knows as ‘Maharani’.

And then came Rahul Gandhi’s 163km roadshow in eastern Rajasthan on October 9, and with it, trips to all four assembly constituencies in Dholpur district — Rajakhera, Bari, Baseri and Dholpur — with public meetings held in Maniya, Bari and Baseri.

“The Congress’s prospects are better in eastern Rajasthan than other parts of the state. The party president has cemented that by his visit,” one of the party’s central leaders said, not wanting to be named.

Congress leaders and political experts cite three reasons for Gandhi’s visits to these parts. One, the Congress wanted to challenge Raje on her home turf, especially after she skipped the region during her ‘yatra’. Two, the Bahujan Samaj Party holds a considerable influence in Dholpur and Bharatpur, the two districts bordering UP with a sizeable SC population. And finally, the “untouchable” tag.

“The Congress president, by visiting one of the most remote areas of the state, has sent a message that he cares for all sections of the society,” said Congress general secretary Mohan Prakash, a native of Dholpur.

Gandhi’s tour has left the party leaders upbeat, many of whom say a big political show in Raje’s backyard has given the workers “moral strength” to take on the chief minister and her party after the massive defeat in the 2013 elections, when the BJP won 163 of the 200 assembly seats. “We wanted to drive home the message that the Congress party is capable of challenging the chief minister in her home ground,” Prakash said.

Congress legislator Pradhyumn Singh said the last party president to visit areas where Rahul Gandhi went was his grandmother Indira Gandhi. While Raje began her political career from Dholpur, getting elected as an MLA in 1985, she contested the 1989 Lok Sabha election from Jhalawar. Her return to Dholpur assembly in 1993 election wasn’t successful, though.

Jitendra Rajoria, a political expert, said the Congress president’s visit was to fill a political vacuum. “The Congress has been losing Dholpur for many years. During 2017 bypolls, Sachin Pilot spent a considerable time here and he may be looking to consolidate the political space he created during that time,” he said.

First Published: Oct 12, 2018 14:30 IST