He came, they congregated. He spoke, they cheered.
It was hysteria for a while, and then ennui. This sums up Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election rally in Jodhpur on 3 December, to garner support for his party’s candidates ahead of the assembly polls.
As the campaign for the Rajasthan assembly elections ends on Wednesday evening (5 December), candidates have started settling into their constituencies for the final salvo, and the star campaigners are making their final bid to persuade voters.
Over the past two days, I have covered over 1,200 kilometres in Rajasthan, speaking to people in a bid to capture the sentiment in two major regions, namely, Marwar and Mewar, along with CM Vasundhara Raje’s constituency, Jhalawar.
Let’s look at how the bets are placed in each of these three places and how the top leaders are positioned.
Marwar, the western region in Rajasthan comprising Jodhpur, Pali, Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jalore and Bilara, delivered 30 out of the 33 seats for the BJP. Of these, 9 were from Jodhpur, the hometown of former Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, that accounts for 10 assembly seats. The lone seat that Congress managed to win was Sardarpura, Gehlot’s bastion since 1998.
The electoral battle in Jodhpur became interesting when it became apparent that Ashok Gehlot would not only have to retain his bastions, he would have to win seats across the region to stamp his authority.
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On the other hand, Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat from the BJP has to ensure that the party doesn’t face a reverse sweep. He has to hold fort in Marwar to stake his claim as the tallest leader in the region.
As both fight it out, the parties have to apply different strategies for Jodhpur. BJP has repeated nine out of ten candidates; only Jodhpur city has gone to Atul Bhansali – the nephew of incumbent legislator Kailash Bhansali has gotten the seat in place of his uncle. On the other hand, Ashok Gehlot is the only face the Congress has repeated from Sardarpura; the rest have been changed.
The BJP has managed to balance the caste cadre better, and the campaign has been more effective, with Shekhawat taking charge and focusing on the region for the last seven days.
They have been able to pacify rebels, whereas with Gehlot canvassing across the state, Jodhpur hasn’t got a stable anchor from the Congress.
Amit Shah has visited the region twice and personally reached out to rebels and convinced them to come back to their regions, which has worked well. But the rebels remain a headache for the Congress.
The most watched seat here is Sardarpura from where Ashok Gehlot will take on Shambu Singh Khetasar, whom he defeated last time.
It’s been said that whosoever wins Mewar, forms the government in Rajasthan. In December 2013, the southern part of Rajasthan (comprising Udaipur, Rajsamand, Chittorgarh and Bhilwara) was swept by BJP. They managed 26 of the 28 seats in the region.
This time around, analysts and people at large feel that they aren’t happy with the government, and want change.
The tallest BJP leader, Home Minister of Rajasthan, Gulab Chand Kataria, who is a Jain, has for the first time campaigned on the basis of caste, and have issued an appeal to the Jain community to come to his rescue.
What works here for the Congress is that for the first time, it seems that the dominant castes in the region, that is, the Rajputs, Ravana Rajputs, Gurjars and to some extent the Brahmins, are inclined to vote for the party.
The first two have aligned, with common anger against CM Raje for not backing the Rajputs, and of course, the Anandpal encounter. Gurjars see a chance to have a chief minister from amongst them, and the Brahmins aren’t happy with the BJP. This gives Congress an edge in the region.
Big seats in the region are in Nathdwara from where former Union Minister C P Joshi will take on his protégée Mahesh Pratap Singh. The other being Udaipur, where Girija Vyas of the Congress is against Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria.
In her bastion for three decades, Raje is challenged by Manvendra Singh Jasol, son of former Union Minister Jaswant Singh. 15 years after she defeated Congress State President Sachin Pilot’s mother Rama Pilot, it’s the first time she has been challenged.
The soft spoken Manvendra is banking on a Raje loyalist-turned-foe, namely Shailendra Yadav, who challenged the chief minister and carved a niche for himself, but was denied a ticket.
Singh hopes to dent the close to 55,000 Muslim votes and around 25,000 Rajput votes, to enter the contest.
He ran a low-pitched swabhiman poll pitch where the decibel was raised by his better-half, Chitra Singh. It remains to be seen if that is enough to topple Raje in her turf.
Meanwhile the grapevine has it that the BJP – and this could very well be the party’s machinery at work – may reverse the anti-incumbency trend that the state has witnessed over the years. Well, that’s a question that will be answered on December 11.
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