In Battle Royale for Rajasthan, BJP Bets it All on Modi as Congress Plays to Its Strengths
The BJP's prospects have significantly improved here after the Pulwama attack, in which five of the 40 CRPF personnel killed were from Rajasthan, and Balakot air strikes.
A file photo of PM Narendra Modi during a rally. (Image: PTI)
The state that wholeheartedly supported Narendra Modi’s bid for Prime Ministership in 2014 is going to polls today asking itself whether Modi deserves a second chance.
What is clear throughout the crucial Mewar region is that BJP with a lot of support from the RSS has successfully scripted their campaign around Modi. It helps BJP MP hopefuls beat anti-incumbency and also work around some difficult questions of caste arithmetic.
In Ajmer, for instance, BJP has put up a Jat candidate at the risk of polarising members of the other dominant communities - Gujjars, Vaishyas, Brahmins and most prominently the Rajputs - against itself. But BJP’s Bhagirath Chaudhary is banking on ‘Namo Again’ to see him through.
Similar is the case with Subhash Chand Baheria, the incumbent MP and BJP’s candidate from Bhilwara. In a press conference he held on the last day of campaigning, Baheria, who is from Baniya community, talked about the achievements of Modi, instead of talking about his own achievements, and urged people to give Modi a second chance.
BJP’s Arjun Lal Meena, the sitting MP and BJP’s repeat candidate in Udaipur, is also using the same formula.
The party’s prospects have significantly improved here after the Pulwama attack, in which five of the 40 CRPF personnel killed were from Rajasthan, and Balakot air strikes.
In nearly every political speech that Modi and Amit Shah have delivered here, they’ve invoked these themes. In a recent rally held on April 27 in Jalore, Shah said that these elections were opportunities to avenge the deaths of CPRF personnel.
BJP’s IT cell has further heightened this propaganda by repeatedly attacking the proposed ‘dilution’ of sedition and AFSPA laws, mentioned in Congress’ manifesto.
Congress has tried to firefight the ‘nationalism’ by opening state coffers just in time. First, it increased the compensation to the families of the deceased CRPF personnel from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 50 lakh. It has also issued letters promising loan waivers to small farmers. And now it is promising cash transfers through the Nyay scheme.
It has also tried to localise the contests and play to its own strengths.
Congress leaders especially from Mewar region, where Congress has traditionally not been on good footing, like CWC member and vice-president of the state unit Raghuveer Meena, party leader and the current speaker of state assembly CP Joshi and chief of state unit Sachin Pilot have been seen to be working closely with each other, trying to counter the influence of their BJP counterparts like Gulab Chand Kataria.
Candidate selection, a department on which many say Congress hasn’t scored very well again, is also in some cases negating BJP’s nationalist narrative.
In Chittorgarh, for instance, BJP has fielded a Rajput candidate after some time and mobilised a section of Rajputs towards itself. Its candidate in Pak-bordering constituency of Barmer, Manvendra Singh, has so far effectively battled BJP’s nationalist narrative given his own stint in the army and that of his father.
In a BJP stronghold like Kota, Congress has created a chance for itself by fielding a Meena leader from the non-reserved seat. Although BJP’s bigger fight could be with its own self given the widespread factionalism in Kota-Bundi Lok Sabha seat, where Congress for a change seems to be fighting unitedly.
This is the seat in Hadauti region, the other being Jhalawar where Vasundhara Raje has practically been campaigning for her son since assembly elections, where Congress is fancying its chances. According to one estimate, Raje, who has largely been absent from the Lok Sabha campaigns, has delivered nearly half her public speeches from a total of 30, in Jhalawar-Baran.
Speaking of which, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has similarly been touring Jodhpur where his son is fighting against BJP’s heavyweight Rajput leader and minister of state, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Of the nearly 130 public appearances, by one account, he has had 90 rallies in Jodhpur alone.
The one seat that may not go into either party’s kitty is the state’s southernmost Lok Sabha constituency, Banswara-Dungarpur, in the Mewar-Vagad region, where a third political force, a tribal-centric party, has emerged as a strong contender.
Founded by Chhotubhai Vasava, a Gujarati tribal leader, in 2017, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) has surprised many in this area. Local newspapers refer to the contest in this Lok Sabha seat as three-cornered. But many journalists, having seen the results of the recent Assembly polls, say they won’t be surprised if the BTP bags this seat.
At the end of the day, BJP will hope that its voters, however, disgruntled with the performance of their leaders, will keep Modi in mind while casting their ballot. That will be the party’s only hope. The Congress, on the other hand, could have an advantage in the manner in which rural Rajasthan, which had shown a clear resentment against the BJP, votes.
And the manner in which the silent SC and ST communities, sections among which have been particularly angry with the BJP on issues like dilution of SC/ST atrocities bill, and which on any given seat make up for around 20% of the electorate, cast their ballots.
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