Lok Sabha polls: Can BJP sneak past 60% vote share in Rajasthan? | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Lok Sabha elections 2024 | Rajasthan ground report: Can BJP sneak past 60% vote share?

Mar 02, 2024 12:12 PM IST

Even some Congress loyalists don't see much of a future for the party. Booth level workers of the BJP, on the other hand, are a highly motivated lot.

Sunset is just a few minutes away and the glittering magic of Ram Bagh Palace is a sight to behold. Peacocks frolic as if in a memorial to Maharani Gayatri Devi who perhaps once lived right here. Now a five-star hotel, Ram Bagh Palace is testimony to both the past and future of Rajasthan and Indian democracy as close to a billion Indian voters get set to elect a new government. Past because remnants of a feudal haughtiness linger on. The future because new possibilities gleam in the eyes of the staff working here. If you earn a princely salary post taxes of 200,000 a month, it will still not be enough to afford a one-night stay at the hotel. The per-capita income of Rajasthan is about 13,000 per month and more than 15% of the population of this vast state lives in multi-dimensional poverty according to the recent Niti Ayog estimates.

Rajasthan chief minister Bhajanlal Sharma, party national vice president Vasundhara Raje, state deputy CMs Diya Kumari and Prem Chand Bairwa filing the BJP Rajya Sabha candidate's Rajya Sabha nomination. (File photo)
Rajasthan chief minister Bhajanlal Sharma, party national vice president Vasundhara Raje, state deputy CMs Diya Kumari and Prem Chand Bairwa filing the BJP Rajya Sabha candidate's Rajya Sabha nomination. (File photo)

Also read: Who is Diya Kumari, Jaipur princess who won Rajasthan polls by 71,368 votes?

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The staff at Ram Bagh palace is a glaring manifestation of stiff upper lips. They look at the author with a mix of raised eyebrows and borderline contempt when he tries to make conversation. Almost all of them simply refuse to talk. The only person who does speak is a doughty gentleman who is working the lawns at a distance from the main palace. “Yes, I remember Gayatri Maharani. She was a queen no doubt. But when I was young, Indira Gandhi was a bigger queen and even put our Maharani in jail,” he says. When the author asks the gentleman his name, there is just a shrug of indifference and denial. When the author asks if Rahul Gandhi will be a King like his grandmother was queen, there is a mischievous smile and a tart response: “Ab Bharat Badal Gaya Hai”.

Also read: Lok Sabha elections 2024 | Assam ground report: Bodos seem to be at peace, at last

But the past never disappears. It just merges with the present and the future in Rajasthan. Princess Riya Kumari, born in 1971 when Indira Gandhi was at her peak, is the step-granddaughter of Gayatri Devi. Her father Bhawani Singh was the stepson of Gayatri Devi. Clinging on to the past, he contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1989 from his erstwhile kingdom Jaipur. Bhawani Singh was soundly defeated by a BJP candidate Girdhari Lal Bhargava who went on to win six consecutive Lok Sabha elections from Jaipur. Diya Kumari was 18 years old when her father lost.

Perhaps the lessons stayed on as she stayed away from active politics for a long time. But then came Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate in 2013 and Diya Kumari grabbed her chance. In a turbocharged rally in 2013 that some folks still talk of in awe, she joined the BJP in the presence of Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Modi in front of a cheering crowd of about 200,000 supporters. The past merged with the present and became the future. In 2019, Diya Kumari won the Rajsamand Lok Sabha seat with a near record margin of more than 500,000 votes. She was a “surprise” pick as deputy chief minister after the BJP won Rajasthan in the December 2023 assembly elections. Who knows what lies ahead?

Rajasthan is such a vast and spread-out state that it is not possible for anyone to claim deep insights after just a two-day trip. The author pleads guilty to that kind of ignorance. Yet, the signs are unmistakable if you have a modicum of understanding of the rough and tumble of politics in India. In Bandikui near Dausa where Gujjar voters have an emotional connection with Sachin Pilot, Devendra Singh is the block president of NSUI, the student wing of the Congress. Singh doesn’t see much of a future for the Congress this time around. And he is more bothered about Rahul, Priyanka Gandhi insulting his “leader” Sachin Pilot than the fortunes of the Congress.

Also read: Lok Sabha elections 2024 ground report: In North Bengal, saffron flags are all over, but what about the votes?

Booth level workers of the BJP, on the other hand, are a highly motivated lot. Kishori Meena is in charge of some areas within Jaipur city and is armed with the entire list of voters in his area. His target is clear, and the message has been hammered down to all party workers like him: try your best to contact every possible female voter and make sure about two-thirds of them vote for Modi.

Also, it is important for the BJP to raise its vote share in Rajasthan from 58% to more than 60% this time.

Billionaire Diya Kumari is doing her bit to meet the target. So is her erstwhile “subject” Kishori.

(This is the third in a series of 40 field reports from all corners of India in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections that aim to understand how the country is changing in fundamental ways.)

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