There is a lot more to Kota than the ubiquitous IIT-JEE assembly lines. Surrounded by three dams on a languid Chambal which flows by, Kota unlike other divisions of the desert state of Rajasthan has not had to grapple with annual water woes. Kota is too possessive of its kachauris. Unseasonal and unexplained fluctuations in the price of the popular snack have at times triggered spontaneous protests.
LK Advani cut his teeth in electoral politics here as the poll agent of the Jan Sangh candidate in the first Lok Sabha elections in 1952. In the third Lok Sabha polls in 1962, Jan Sangh nominee Onkarlal Berwa snatched the Kota seat from the Congress. And since then, the Congress has won Kota only thrice. The hub of anti-Congress politics, Kota has produced some influential Bharatiya Janata Party leaders. Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi, who posed a strong challenge to Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s leadership. And, of course, Om Birla, the current Lok Sabha speaker.
Kota thus is a special place for BJP in Rajasthan politics. It is here that the Bharatiya Jan Sangh found its feet. And since Independence, the divisional headquarters of Hardoti (name derived from Hara dynasty of Chauhan Rajputs) has been a witness to some of the most animated political battles in the state.
From the other side of the political spectrum, the mantle of leadership against the saffron front has predominantly been carried by one family: the Dhariwals of the Congress. From the first assembly polls when Rikhab Chand Dhariwal campaigned for the party candidate, and later entered the assembly to become industries and finance minister, to July 2020, when his son Shanti Dhariwal, the urban development minister in Ashok Gehlot's government, herded Congress MLAs to the safety of Jaisalmer before the trust vote in the face of Sachin Pilot's revolt.
Unlike the father whose political graph rose steadily in the Congress ranks, Shanti Dhariwal’s career has gone through alternate crests and troughs. He won his first Lok Sabha election in the 1984 wave after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The next high tide in 1998 assembly polls helped him enter the state assembly and that was the beginning of his close association with Ashok Gehlot.
Gehlot became chief minister, and Dhariwal, from an influential Jain family of Haroti, a powerful minister holding key portfolios like home and later urban development.
Interestingly though, Dhariwal has never won two consecutive elections. He loses when the Congress is stripped of power in the state. And he returns to the assembly five years later to become a minister in 1998, 2008 and 2018. On all three occasions, he has had work with just one chief minster- Ashok Gehlot.
It was very obvious then that when 19 rebel Congress MLAs fled to Delhi in the second week of July, Dhariwal was one leader whom Gehlot could turn to for help.
Having successfully held on to his MLAs in a month of tug of war, when there were signs of rapprochement, it was Dhariwal again who was fielded to send a message to the high command that loyalists and not the deserters must be rewarded.
Outspoken and blunt, Dhariwal can both ignite and douse tempers in the state assembly. His retort to firing near a mosque in Bharatpur in September, 2011 quietened an opposition on its feet. During the recent trust vote, he took a dig at the state BJP leadership to warn against an ambitious leader in a hurry to become the chief minister. His interventions irked both the opposition and the Speaker as at one point CP Joshi had to ask CM Gehlot to restrain his parliamentary affairs minister.
When Sachin Pilot came to the state assembly for the trust vote last week, he had been assigned a new seat right next to an independent MLA, which is on the margins of the Congress’s lot in the treasury benches.
In the earlier sitting arrangement, Pilot sat next to the CM on the front row.
That place had instead been allocated to Dhariwal; on the right side of CM Ashok Gehlot.