Rajasthan assembly elections 2018: Will flawed picks upset Congress’ plan in Marwar?
Here’s some real-time information. In the not-too-distant past, Rajasthan was for the Congress a low-hanging fruit. It seems now a coconut up in the sky, like a pie. That’s no poetic alliteration. It’s hard politics where love vanishes and returns faster than in real life.
The story specifically is of Marwar, which betroths 33 suitors to the 200-strong state assembly. The region has flirted with the Congress in the past. But it wasn’t ever the way it embraced the BJP in 2013. During the Narendra Modi wave, the saffron party won the hearts of the electorate in 30 constituencies. The Congress was left with just three, including Ashok Gehlot’s Sardarpura, which he’s re-contesting in Jodhpur.
There’s a lot of history to the two-time Congress CM’s association with the city that’s the seat of the erstwhile Marwar royalty. The 1952 polls in the region were swept by the Ram Rajya Parishad of the former king, Hanwant Singh Rathore, who did not live to see the Congress’s rout and the massive democratic endorsement of his popularity in free India’s first elections.
He and his third wife, Zubeida, a Muslim actress, were killed in a tragic plane crash on January 26 that year. Shyam Benegal’s 2001 celluloid version of Zubeida’s romance with the charismatic royal was scripted by film critic Khalid Mohammad, her son from her first marriage.
Having been patronised by the palace in the early years of his political career, Gehlot has sought to partake of the Rathore legacy in the upcoming elections. His catch phrase in the region this time is a replication of Hanwant’s 1952 promise to the people: mein thansu dour nahi (I’m not away from you) ....
But flawed candidatures have somewhat queered the pitch for the Congress and Gehlot, who undoubtedly is a popular face in Marwar and Rajasthan’s other regions, where scions of former royalties and principalities retain traction in their lost fiefdoms.
The BJP’s Vasundhara Raje has the Gwalior lineage by birth and through her marriage into the state’s Dholpur royalty. Others adorning princely badges in democratic contests are from the Bikaner, Kota and Alwar families. The first two are aligned with the BJP; the third with the Congress.
For instance, Gajendra Singh of Nagaur’s Khemsar principality is the BJP candidate in Lohawat. Punters in the adjoining satta hub at Phalodi, some 140 km off Jodhpur, see him as the eventual winner. In Phalodi itself, Congress nominee Mahesh Vyas has none betting on his win.
Betting has stopped since in Phalodi. Dhanji , a local punter, says he individually collates information from satta centres in Mumbai, Shekhawati, Jhunjhunu and Bikaner, where a tough cop has made punters scoot to operate from other abodes.
If punters including Dhanji are to be trusted, the 60-odd Congress rebellions could help the BJP to bounce back in the game or improve its tally. That’s because renegades in the saffron camp are relatively fewer.
“The Congress was a clear winner before candidatures. The field now is open and could throw up tantalising results,” said Dhanji, who is candid about his BJP. His prognosis matched the voices this writer heard on the ground —as also the assessment of Yogesh Sharma of the Jodhpur-based newspaper, Jalte Deep.
On the road from Jodhpur to Phalodi, the only seat where the Congress seems to have an edge is contested by Divya Maderna, daughter of Mahipal Maderna, a heavyweight Jat leader jailed in the Bhanwari Devi murder case. The Congress candidature from Osian has always been from her family, starting with her grandfather and the legendary Jat chieftain, Paras Ram Maderna. He contested and lost the 1952 polls driven by Hanwant’s royal appeal.
“I and my family have grassroots connect,” insisted Divya Maderna. Ironically, her fight in Osian is with Mahendra Singh Bhati, a Congress rebel considered close to Gehlot, whose campaign centres around the JatRajput rivalry that’s rampant not just in Marwar but across the state.
At Bhati’s camp office in Osian, his supporters openly said he’d return to the Congress if he wins. That might also be true of other rebels. But there’s no guarantee against the BJP wresting seats in fights made triangular by independent candidates and smaller parties.
The lesser players capable of damaging the prospects of the two main rivals include the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party of Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal and the Bharat Vahini of former BJP minister Ghanshyam Tiwari. Many disaffected Congress and BJP ticket-seekers have been fielded by these fringe parties.
Political grapevine is abuzz, in fact, in Marwar about the logistics assembled by Beniwal, who chopper-hops constituencies with a Jat population.
Senior Congress leaders recognise the possibility of damage by rebels in 25-30 seats. For Jodhpur’s reserved Bilara seat, Congress nominee Hiralal Meghwal is from the Gahlot faction. He’s in a spot as Vijender Jhala, a Sachin Pilot man, is in the fray on Beniwal’s ticket. He may not win but can take a sizeable number of Jat votes to make the BJP win.
The way the dice are now loaded should make Gehlot ponder whether the voters will be with his party—in spite of his promise to be with them.
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