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Politics in a Tea Cup: Modi Factor vs Caste Equation in Rajasthan’s Barmer

Barmer seat, Rajasthan's largest parliamentary constituency in terms of size, is dominated by Jats and Rajputs who comprise 3.5 lakh and 2.5 lakh voters, respectively.

PTI

Updated:April 24, 2019, 3:34 PM IST
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Politics in a Tea Cup: Modi Factor vs Caste Equation in Rajasthan’s Barmer
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Image: PTI)
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Barmer: In Rajasthan's Barmer, Lucky Tea House is a popular cafe. Located near the railway station, it has welcomed visitors for 35 years. Many of Lucky's customers are local residents, for whom it has become almost a ritual to have the morning tea here.

With the morning tea served hot and fresh and newspapers by their side, the visitors passionately discuss politics. In northern India, tea and politics in any case go side by side.

Dheeraj Jatt, 70, visits Lucky Tea House every morning. He has done this for years.

Last week, Jatt was trying to convince his friends at the tea shop that there still is a Modi wave in Barmer. But some of his friends are unsure, they say caste equation will play a bigger role this time, unlike 2014. The discussion goes on.

It is likely to continue until the constituency votes on April 29. After that, Jatt and his friends say with a smile, they will discuss who among them understood politics better.

Barmer seat, the desert state's largest parliamentary constituency in terms of size, is dominated by Jats and Rajputs who comprise 3.5 lakh and 2.5 lakh voters, respectively. Also, there are around 2.25 lakh Muslim voters while 4 lakh voters belong to the Scheduled Castes.

Congress has fielded former BJP leader Jaswant Singh's son Manvendra, a Rajput. He has been a member of Parliament from Barmer between 2004 and 2009, and later an MLA from Sheo.

In 2014, his father was denied ticket by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Jaswant Singh, the veteran BJP leader, contested as an independent and lost to BJP's Sonaram Choudhary.

In September last year, Manvendra Singh quit BJP, and later joined Congress, citing differences with then chief minister Vasundhara Raje. The Congress candidate is said to be having built a good image for himself among Rajput, Muslim and SC and OBC voters since then.

But the Feb. 26 Indian air strike on a terrorist camp inside Pakistan may swing the mood in favour of the BJP in the border district. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week reminded the people they would be voting against terrorism when they press the Lotus, the BJP symbol.

BJP has fielded first-time contender Kailash Choudhary, replacing Sonaram Choudhary. Both the leaders are from Jat community.

Outside Lucky Tea House, near the railway station, Mahesh Mathany runs a juice corner. He said it is possible that Sonaram Choudhary may try to split Jat votes and this may benefit Manvendra Singh.

For Suresh Singh, who works at Barmer railway station, a strong leadership is important.

Prime Minister Modi is the "only one" who can give a befitting reply to Pakistan, he said. "It is ony Modi who can ignite nationalism by giving a strong reply if there is an attack on our jawans. When there is a talk of nationalism, caste equation does not matter, he added.

Rajesh Kumar, a 21-year-old vegetable seller, said under the leadership of Modi, the country is progressing well, but, he admitted, he does not know much about the BJP candidate.

Nontheless, he said, he will vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Surendra Singh, an employee at Prakash Hotel near the railway station, said since the BJP denied ticket to Jaswant Singh in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Rajputs will vote vote for his son Manvendra as the community members are unhappy over their leader being sidelined.

In 2014, Jaswant Singh had polled 33.35 per cent of the total votes cast while BJP's Sonaram Choudhary got 40.62 per cent votes.

Apart from Rajput, Manvendra is likely to be able to get support from Muslims, SC and OBC communities. If Jat votes get divided, it may help Manvendra Singh. He is also accessible, Raghuveer Meena, a local, said.

Barmer faces water scarcity and if he wins, he will get the work of his constituency done by the Congress government in the state, Meena said.

To prove his calculation, he cited the results of state assembly polls where Congress won eight out of nine seats of Barmer-Jaisalmer Lok Sabha constituency.

S M Momin, who offers tax consultancy services, said there is no Modi wave in Barmer. Local issues are more important, which can only be addressed by local leaders and not by the prime minister.

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