Udaipur: The Mewar region, with 28 seats at stake, is considered crucial for any party that wants to form a government in Rajasthan. Historically, whoever wins Mewar also wins Rajasthan.
Both the BJP and the Congress have deployed their big guns in the electoral battleground. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje's election campaign kicked off at Rajsamand and both Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held rallies in Udaipur district in early phases of electioneering.
In 2003, the BJP came to power after winning 22 out of 28 seats in the region. Five years later, the Congress won 20 seats to take back control of the state. And in 2013, the BJP swept the region by winning 25 seats.
Both the BJP and the Congress have fielded senior leaders in 74-year-old Gulab Chand Katariya and 72-year-old Girija Vyas respectively from Udaipur constituency. Kataria is the incumbent MLA from Udaipur and also the home minister in CM Raje's cabinet. Vyas is a former MP and MLA .
According to political analysts, Kataria faces a tough battle. “There is a lot of infighting in the local BJP unit and a vocal section of the party is against Katariya. So, he might be in trouble," said Narayan Bareth, former BBC journalist and professor of journalism at Rajasthan University.
Vyas has not been an active leader in the region, but has an upper hand, thanks to anti-incumbency. However, according to Bareth, new players in the field could change the situation. "There are a lot of parties and Independents, some of whom have been fronted by the BJP. Their presence creates uncertainty about which way the results would swing," Bareth said.
Kataria, who met members of Krishi Upaj Udyog Samiti at the Anaaj Mandi at Savina in Udaipur on Tuesday , remained confident of BJP's prospects in Mewar. "At least 20 seats in Mewar are confirmed in our favour because Congress' graph has gradually fallen. They looked on the up earlier, but as we campaigned in the field and gained the upper hand," he said.
Sanjay Bhandari, president of the Krishi Upaj Udyog Samiti and a BJP member, also admitted that Congress had held the advantage in the early stages of campaigning, but the infighting in the grand old party following the release of its final list candidates changed the mood. "The BJP took measures too by dropping around 80 sitting MLAs to counter anti-incumbency," Bhandari said.
According to the Kataria, the BJP stands to win 12 out of 16 seats from the crucial tribal belts of Mewar region. In Mewar, of the total population of 64 lakh, about 45 lakh are tribals.
Bareth said both the BJP and the Congress historically began their election campaigns in the region in order to woo the tribal community. "Tribes in Mewar used to favour the Congress. But after 1970s, the BJP increased its presence as RSS and other affiliate organisations started working here. The socialist movement also had an influence, especially in Banswara and Dungarpur districts. The Socialist leader Mama Baleshwar Dayal had held Congress and BJP at bay, but after his death his supporters sided with the BJP," Bareth said.
In last elections, tribal regions had voted for the BJP, but there is palpable anger among them now. Kataria, however, maintained that tribal population had benefited from government schemes. "They got homes, electricity, roads, toilets. We prepared polling-wise papers for this elections. If a tribal region had 1,100 voters, at least 800 to 900 benefited from schemes," the BJP leader said.
Vyas countered Kataria's claims and said the BJP had worked against the interest of the tribals. “The BJP shut down the Muft Anaaj Yojana under which adivasis got grains at Re 1 per kilogram. NREGA has been cut down to one-fourth as well. The tribal population is unhappy today," Vyas added.
She claimed the Congress campaign has reached the masses and assimilated support. "People trust that I will work for them where the BJP and Gulabji failed," she said.
Many are switching sides ahead of the voting on December 7. Devi Lal, a sanitation worker from Udapur, said he had traditionally voted for BJP, but was inclined to support Congress this time. "People say Girija Vyas' age works against her. But Kataria is old too. Mewar isn't pleased with BJP," he said.
Kataria dismissed the challenge posed by Vyas by saying she had been inactive in Udaipur politics for 10 to 15 years. "It's my place of birth," Vyas countered.
"I love the people here and they love me back. I may have fought elections from other regions in the past, but I have been living in Udaipur for the past five years. Even when I was not here, I used to come to Udaipur every Friday and Saturday. Everyone knows that. When I was Minister of Housing, I had invested Rs 100 crore for housing schemes here," she added.