From Pilot to Raje, These 7 Firebrand Players Are Proof Rajasthan is a Battle of Personalities
In the 2013 state elections, the BJP won 163 of the 200 assembly seats—its highest ever poll victory in Rajasthan. But the exit polls on Friday predicted a win for the Congress.
Rajasthan Congress President Sachin Pilot during a protest in Jaipur (File photo: PTI)
Jaipur: The politics in Rajasthan, which has historically fluctuated between the BJP and Congress every election, is centred largely around personalities. In the 2013 state elections, the BJP won 163 of the 200 assembly seats—its highest ever poll victory in Rajasthan. But the exit polls on Friday predicted a win for the Congress. With election results on December 11, here’s a look at all key players in the state.
Sachin Pilot is the face of Congress in Rajasthan. A former Member of Parliament from Ajmer and Dausa and a union minister in Dr Manmohan Singh's cabinet, Pilot was made the Pradesh Congress Committee president in Rajasthan after the heavy loss in 2013 state elections.
Since then, Pilot has worked across the state and lifted Congress' perception among the masses. In five years, the 41-year-old has become a popular leader and his hands-on attitude has got him respect among the Congress workers as well. The exit polls have predicted a win for Rajasthan and if that happens, a big credit will go to Pilot.
In his first assembly polls this time, Pilot is contesting from Tonk. Not only is he favoured to win against BJP's Yunus Khan, he is also being touted as the next Chief Minister of Rajasthan. Congress, however, has not declared a CM candidate. Both Pilot and senior leader Ashok Gehlot are contesting and could be elevated to the office of the Chief Minister if Congress returns to power.
The opposition has attacked the Congress over not having declared a CM candidate, alleging that there is infighting among the senior leadership over the chief ministerial role. But Pilot has dismissed the allegations and maintained that his party has a history of not announcing CM candidates ahead of polls. Pilot is also his party's star campaigner and has been travelling across the state with his team.
Born in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh to late Congress leader Rajesh Pilot, Sachin holds a degree from St Stephen's college in Delhi and Wharton School in Philadelphia, USA. He is married to Sara Abdullah, daughter of former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. Pilot is also commissioned as an officer in the Territorial Army.
Vasundhara Raje is the current Chief Minister of Rajasthan and in the 15 years since she become the first woman CM of the desert state, Raje has faced several ups and downs. She comes from the royal family of Gwalior and is the daughter of Vijayaraje Scindia and Jivajirao Scindia.
She completed her education from Sophia College in Mumbai and later married Maharaj Rana Hemant Singh of the royal Jat Dholpur family in 1972. The marriage did not last but her connection with Rajasthan only became stronger. She entered politics in 1984 and was elected as a BJP MLA from Dholpur.
She then went on to become a five-time MP from Jhalawar and her son Dushyant Singh took over from her. She has been elected to the assembly three times in a row from Jhalrapatan in Jhalawar district, a region that is considered to be her stronghold. Congress' Manvendra Singh is fighting from her constituency this time, but it is said the maharani's fortress cannot be breached.
Raje, 65, is known for her iron grip on the state politics and her ministers. She has also often been on the other side of the debate with the BJP central leadership and stood up to BJP president Amit Shah to establish further gravitas in the party. A notable example is when she blocked Gajendra Shekhawat Singh Shekhawat's ascension as the state party president.
She is also perceived as arrogant and inaccessible, which is one of the reasons for the anti-incumbency against the BJP. It is believed that she has lost the support of the people. Slogans like 'Modi se bair nahi, rani ki khair nahi' were heard during the run up to the elections this time.
But it is this that also makes her a strong leader, one not to be trifled with. She is expected to win her seat from Jhalrapatan but it looks increasingly unlikely that she will get to become CM for a third time.
If Sachin Pilot is the young face of Congress in Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot is the veteran. The 67-year-old leader has been chief minister of Rajasthan two times: from 1998 to 2003 and from 2008 to 2013. He is currently the General Secretary of All India Congress Committee. Gehlot hails from Jodhpur and has contested elections in the same district from Sardarpura seat, where he has been victorious since 1998.
In fact, his hold on Sardarpura is so strong that the BJP has not won the seat in two decades, even though they swept the Jodhpur district in 2013, winning every seat but Sardarpura.
An Economics student and Gandhian, Gehlot was involved in social activism in his early life. He worked at refugee camps in eastern states of India during the East Bengalis refugee crises in 1971. It was in a refugee camp that Indira Gandhi took note of him during a visit. He was later appointed the state president for NSUI, Congress' student wing.
A former MP and union minister in Rajiv Gandhi government, Gehlot is now the second Chief Ministerial face for Congress in Rajasthan. Ahead of elections, many believed that Gehlot would try and get a ticket for his son Vaibhav Gehlot, but both him and Pilot announced that they would be contesting, a move that was seen as the party trying to walk the line between both the big leaders. It remains to be seen who will be promoted to the CM's chair. If Pilot is made CM, Gehlot could be looking for more responsibility in the central leadership.
Gehlot is also a star campaigner in Rajasthan and enjoys immense popularity among the masses.
A former defence journalist for The Statesman and The Indian Express, an Indian army veteran of the Kargil war and son of former Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, Manvendra Singh has donned many hats. Eventually, he followed his illustrious father into politics in the late 1990s.
Educated in the liberal arts and with a refined personality, Manvendra may appear to be an odd fit in the Indian politics. He lost his first Lok Sabha election against Sona Ram, who was then in Congress, from Barmer-Jaisalmer. He was later elected as MP from the same constituency after defeating Sona Ram in 2004.
An incumbent MLA from Sheo, Manvendra left the BJP in September over the treatment of his father. BJP overlooked Jaswant Singh for Sona Ram, who had defected from the Congress in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He was even suspended from the party for his campaign against Ram.
It is believed that his differences with Raje were also on the rise, especially with the latter antagonising the Rajput community. Manvendra quit and joined the Congress and now faces the near-impossible task of toppling Raje from her fortress in Jhalrapatan.
Jhalawar is a bastion for Raje, but a direct battle with Manvendra throws up interesting narratives and thus the Jhalrapatan seat is among the most-watched in the state.
Manvendra would be hoping to assimilate the Rajput and minority vote in the region, but despite his late push might fall short of knocking Raje off her perch.
BJP’s Yunus Khan is pitted against PCC chief Sachin Pilot in Tonk, one of the most talked about seats this election. Khan is the only Muslim candidate of the saffron party in Rajasthan. The party had not given ticket to a single Muslim candidate by the release of its third list. In fact, Habib-ur-Rahman, MLA from Nagaur, quit BJP and joined Congress after he was denied a ticket. The BJP Minority cell in Jaipur even wrote a letter to Amit Shah and PM Narendra Modi about minorities being overlooked.
But when Pilot announced he was contesting from Tonk, BJP withdrew Ajit Singh and brought in Khan for Deedwana. Khan is an MLA from Deedwana and is also the minister for Public Works and Transport department in the Raje government. The move was seen as BJP trying to appease the majority Muslim voters in Tonk, which has over 50,000 Muslim voters.
Khan told News18 that the decision to field him against Pilot was a strategic one. He is a popular leader and a known face in Rajasthan politics. He has campaigned rigorously in Tonk and has held multiple meetings and interactions with members of different communities in the region.
Pilot was unchallenged earlier but the arrival of Khan has somewhat closed down that gap. While the Congress leader still holds the edge, Tonk residents say it is likely to be a much closer fight than expected.
Senior Congress leader C.P. Joshi is in the fray from his birthplace Nathdwara. The former MP from Bhilwara served as a union minister for multiple portfolios such as Panchayati Raj and Road Transport and Railways in the Congress government.
The 68-year-old leader studied law from M.B College in Udaipur and did his Masters in physics. He also completed his Masters in psychology and went on to do a Ph.D on the subject. He was a lecturer at his alma mater M.B. College and then a professor of psychology at Mohanlal Sukhadia University before entering politics.
Former Rajasthan CM and founder of modern Mewar Mohanlal Sukhadia recognised Joshi's potential and encouraged him to join politics. After a stint as student union president, he was elected as an MLA from Nathdwara.
Joshi was also appointed the president of Pradesh Congress Committee in 2003 and was credited with galvanising the party to win 2008 elections.
He recently came under scrutiny after his caste-coloured comments during his poll campaign in Nathdwara. He reportedly said, "Only brahmans know enough to talk about Hinduism." Later, after a rebuke from Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Joshi apologised for his comments.
Joshi is up against BJP's Mahesh Pratap Singh for the Nathdwara seat.
Hanuman Beniwal is the face of young Jat politics and agitation in Rajasthan. The former BJP leader floated his own Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) in October, with a water bottle as the party symbol.
Beniwal is a firebrand leader who speaks his mind and was once suspended from the BJP for making some anti comments against Raje. When he announced his own party, Beniwal, 46, was also supported by another BJP defector Ghanshyam Tiwari, an MLA from Sanganer who had formed his own Bharat Vahini Party earlier. With RLP, Beniwal wants to provide an alternative to the BJP and Congress.
The independent Legislator from Khinvsar launched his party with a massive ‘Kisan Hunkar’ really last month. He is primarily fighting on farmer issues, loan waivers and youth unemployment.
He is contesting from Khinvsar again and he is said to have an upper hand in a triangular contest with BJP's Ramchandra Utta and Congress’ Sawai Singh Choudhary. Beniwal is causing a disruption in the Jat heartland of Nagaur and has gained considerable popularity among his community.
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