Jaipur: There is one in constituency in the 2018 assembly elections in Rajasthan that seems to have all the ingredients of a Bollywood blockbuster. There is a family rivalry that has been skilfully twisted into political revenge, with swabhiman (self-respect), Rajput pride and personal relationships thrown in for good measure.
Stakes will be high in the Jhalarapatan assembly seat as Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, 65, takes on former Bharatiya Janata Party colleague and now Congress rival Manvendra Singh, 54, on her home turf on December 7.
The contest is likely to be an interesting and closely fought one. Relations between Raje and Manvendra Singh’s family soured considerably after 2014, when his father and former BJP leader Jaswant Singh was denied a ticket for the Lok Sabha polls.
Jaswant Singh and his family have not forgotten the humiliation he suffered, despite being associated with the BJP for decades. Some believe Raje had denied him a ticket because she did not want any other centres of power to develop in the state.
After serving as MP from Darjeeling, West Bengal, Jaswant had expressed his desire to come back to his home state Rajasthan, and contest elections perhaps for the last time. Raje instead gave the ticket to Colonel Sonaram, which prompted Jaswant to contest as an independent. Although he lost, he managed to garner over four lakh votes.
Jaswant has been in a coma since 2014 after he had a fall. Raje has not taken the initiative to repair relations between the two families in the last few years.
For Manvendra, leaving the BJP and joining the Congress in September this year was not easy. He says it was combination of several incidents over the past few years that led to this, including being denied the Lok Sabha ticket from Barmer. He had won the Barmer parliamentary seat in 2004, defeating Sonaram by over 2,71,888 votes.
The disenchantment grew as both him and his father were continuously ignored by Raje, say his supporters. Some BJP workers are said to have hassled the Singh family even surrounded their house in Barmer, something which the family has not forgotten.
At a ‘Swabhiman Rally’ at Pachpadra in Barmer in early September this year, just before he quit BJP, Manvendra had tried to rekindle the emotional connect between his family and the people of Barmer, saying he intended to restore hurt Rajput pride.
Some political observers say his constituency, Sheo, was given short shrift by the BJP government, and development was hindered by the ruling party’s apathy.
Some others, however, say that Sheo has seen developmental work in the form of a power grid, government college and central school over the last few years. They also argue that Manvendra himself never tried to reach out to Raje. Whenever she visited his constituency, he was not around.
Manvendra had previously stated that he was keen to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Barmer, and that none of his family members would contest the assembly polls. There was speculation that his wife, Chitra Singh, would be given a ticket.
Chitra, who campaigned for Jaswant in 2014, told The Wire on Saturday, “We did not know that he would be pitted against Raje in Jhalarapatan. We just got to know everything from TV channels. I haven’t been able to speak to Manvendra since then.”
Congress state president Sachin Pilot told The Wire, “We have got the best candidate to fight against Vasundhara Raje. It is definitely going to be a keen contest. But we know that the sentiments of the people are not with the BJP this time. There is growing resentment against Raje in the Hadoti region, under which Jhalarapatan falls, as no work has been done. In Jhalarapatan, the chairman of the nagar palika
is a Congressman. And Congress definitely has an edge this time.”
On the question of Manvendra being promised a Lok Sabha ticket in case of his loss, Pilot said, “Let us not speculate. We have not promised him anything. He will give a tough fight to Raje.”
After the announcement, Manvendra said, “I am honoured that Rahul Gandhiji and the Congress CEC thought it would be useful for me to contest and I am touched by the responsibility, and will run a fair campaign.”
The campaign, most say, is going to be high on emotional appeal, caste pride, family rivalry and of course the refrain of “belonging”.
Political observers say Manvendra is likely to base his campaign on the fact Raje had humiliated his family in their stronghold, Barmer, and now it is time for him to do the same in Jhalarapatan.
Narayan Bareth, a political analyst, told The Wire, “Manvendra’s campaign is going to be high on emotional appeal in Jhalarapatan. He is going to invoke his father’s name and Rajput pride, and play on the anti-incumbency against the BJP and Raje. He knows he doesn’t stand a chance against Raje here, but he will be in the limelight. He will also win the trust of the Congress leaders. Instead of it being a battle between the Congress and Raje, he will try to make it Jaswant Singh vs Raje. His presence will definitely make the chief minister a bit jittery.”
Raje, on the other hand, has retaliated with fire by saying on Saturday that “The Congress could not find any candidate, and as Manvendra was to be given ticket from somewhere, he was sent to Jhalarapatan. But they should know it is not a fight of one person but this is a contest fought by Jhalawar and Rajasthan, which is a
The chief minister has been MLA from Jhalarapatan since 2003, having won it thrice. Considered her electoral fortress, she had posted one of the biggest victories from her constituency in 2013, winning by a margin of over 60,000 votes more than her nearest rival, Meenakshi Chandrawat of the Congress.
Many development projects have been carried out in the area. Raje always says she has a deep connection with the place. While inaugurating the booth workers meet in October this year, she had said, “Here my supporters are not just BJP workers – we have a relationship of mother-son, mother-daughter and brother-sister. We are all family and my family here has given me love and hope.”
Jhalarapatan is a small town in Jhalawar district, about 347 km from Jaipur, and derives its name from the bells of temple. It has a number of temples, the most famous being Sitalesvara Mahadeva.
Both the Congress and BJP have won Jhalarapatan seven times each since elections began in 1951. Only once has an independent won it, in 1967.
Jhalarapatan was a Congress stronghold till the Emergency in 1977. After the Emergency, the Congress could win only two of the nine assembly elections held.
The constituency has a number of communities, with Muslims being the largest with a population of around 50,000. Next come the Dalits, with about 35,000 voters. Thereafter come the Dhakars and Rajputs each (20,000 each). It also has about 15,000 Sondhiya Rajputs. These Rajputs may just sway towards Manvendra this time, given the Rajput community’s overall disenchantment with the BJP.
There are about 16,000 votes of the Dangi and Patidar communities, 12,000 Gujjars, and other communities like Brahmins and Vaishyas who comprise about 20,000 votes.
The Congress can hope for the Muslim and Dalit votes, as the communities have traditionally voted for the party. This time, the Rajputs may also come into their fold, who have historically largely voted for the BJP.
The other castes, like Dhakars and Patidars, have also traditionally been BJP voters.
This one contest is likely to be the most keenly watched and followed in Rajasthan, as stakes are high for both the main parties.
Rakhee Roytalukdar is a freelance journalist based in Jaipur.