Ajmer was one of the two parliamentary constituencies in Rajasthan that the Congress, after being wiped out of the state in 2014 general elections, had won in bypolls held last year. It was received as a sign of growing political stature of Sachin Pilot, who had put in the effort on ground, and of a resurgent Congress. Raghu Sharma of Congress won the bypoll by around 84,000 votes.
Nearly a year down the line, when the same party under the same leadership fought assembly polls here, it managed to win just two out of eight assembly segments, independent candidates won in two and the rest four were swept by BJP. In fact in two assembly segments - Dudu and Kishangarh - Congress candidates lost their deposits.
The reason behind this huge swing of votes could also be helpful in understanding the present situation in Ajmer.
“We had a very simple slogan in the bypolls - ‘Modi tujhse bair nahi, Vasundhara teri khair nahi’,” said a Rajput voter in Ajmer, meaning that Rajputs used the bypolls to show their anger with the former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.
But when Modi himself came to Ajmer to seek votes for his party candidates, Rajputs (1.8 lakh), Jats (2.5 lakh), sections of Brahmins (1.5 lakh), Vaishyas (2 lakh) and SC/ST (3 lakh) returned to the BJP fold. Congress could count only on some of the Brahmins, SC/ST and Muslim (1.8 lakh) votes.
Congress faces the same problem this time around as well. Its candidate this time is Rijju Jhunjhunuwala, who is said to be Rajasthan’s wealthiest candidate, having declared assets worth Rs 80 crore. He comes from a family of textile mill owners in nearby Bhilwara district.
Jhunjhunuwala, the son-in-law of former Rajasthan cabinet minister Bina Kak, has shaped his campaign around the issue of development and has laid before the public his ‘vision’ for Ajmer which includes bringing water to this parched region, attracting CSR funds to develop this area and to stem job-related migration by setting up industries here.
But on the other hand is Bhagirath Chaudhary, who was denied a ticket in the recent assembly elections, and comes from a well-to-do agricultural family. He has just one answer to every challenge thrown at him - “Modi”. Chaudhary dutifully takes Modi’s name in every rally and openly asks for votes to give Narendra Modi another term. His party office is mostly covered with “Namo again” signboards.
“The fact that Modi is a big campaign tool is well understood and accepted here. On top of that BJP has an advantage of starting its vote count from 2.5 lakh. That’s where Chaudhary opens his account from,” says local veteran journalist SP Mittal, referring to the votes of the Jat community to which Chaudhary himself belongs.
Though the risk with playing the Jat card, effects of which are to an extent visible here, is a reverse polarisation among the rest of the voters, most significantly of the Rajputs.
Since Jats and Rajputs have traditionally been at loggerheads and tend to vote against each other, Congress is counting on a section of Rajputs supporting the Congress candidate to cut the Jat voters to size, plus a big chunk of Vaishya votes given that Jhunjhunwala himself is from the trading community, and significant push from SC/ST and Muslim voters, with some help from Brahmins.
In other words, Congress hopes to recreate the situation of the February 2018 parliamentary bypoll.
Two-time chief of BJP’s SC morcha and former MLA Shrikishan Songara, denies any chance of reverse polarisation against his party’s Jat candidate.
“The traders are happy. Anyone who says that they’re afraid of Jats rising to power doesn’t understand ground situation. ‘Jatwaad’ is an obsolete phenomenon now. It doesn’t work anymore. Congress is trying to push a false narrative of division within the society while their own camp is visibly divided.”
On the other hand, Ajmer based Congress leader and member of Congress’ Rajasthan unit, Srigopal Baheti denies Modi being a factor in this election, “Why does Modi not talk about his own achievements? Why don’t BJP leaders talk about the achievements of Vasundhara Raje? They’re not sure who will win them the elections. It is they who are confused and divided, not us.”