Rajasthan Polls: Can Rebel BJP MLA Manvendra Singh Sway Rajput Votes for Congress?

Singh, the son of former BJP union minister Jaswant Singh, had resigned from the saffron party late last month, citing differences with the central leadership.

New Delhi: In a setback to the Bharatiya Janata Party in Rajasthan, rebel leader Manvendra Singh, son of former BJP union minister Jaswant Singh, joined the Congress on Wednesday. Manvendra had resigned from the saffron party late last month, citing differences with the leadership. He had then said, “Kamal ka phool, hamaari bhool (the lotus was my mistake)”.

He has since then indicated to the Congress that he would be open to joining the party. However, the Congress remained tight-lipped about his induction while weighing the pros and cons.

A sitting MLA from the Sheo constituency in the state assembly, Manvendra was suspended from the party after he decided to support his father in the 2014 general elections. Jaswant Singh had unsuccessfully contested as an independent candidate from Barmer-Jaisalmer Lok Sabha constituency after he was denied a BJP ticket. His rebellion had gathered a lot of attention and ever since, the Singh family has not been in good terms with the saffron party’s leadership, especially the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi welcomes Manvendra Singh as he joins the Congress, in New Delhi, October 17, 2018. Credit: PTI

Manvendra’s induction could help the Congress consolidate the dominant Rajput votes, a group which is extremely influential in electoral politics despite not being one of the most populous communities in Rajasthan (they comprise between 6-7% of the state’s population).

After Manvendra declared that he was open about joining the Congress, the state leadership of the party mulled over whether espousing Manvendra, a Rajput leader, would send a wrong message to the rival Jat community in the state. Insiders say that the Congress leadership resolved the Jat community’s insecurities before bringing Manvendra into its fold.

The Barmer-Jaisalmer region, from where Manvendra contests, is a Jat stronghold, and has historically supported the Congress. The Rajputs have veered towards the BJP traditionally. The Congress now hopes to gain the confidence of Rajputs, who are supposedly angry with BJP’s state leadership, in the region ahead of the upcoming assembly polls. NDTV reported that Rajputs impact about 50 of the state’s 200 seats and hold 26 of them.

When Jaswant Singh contested as an independent candidate in 2014, he had been able to garner a major chunk of votes from smaller OBC communities. Although he lost, his son Manvendra believes that he still has the support of communities like the Rajpurohits, Charans, and Prajapats, along with a substantial section of Muslim votes living in the Barmer-Jaisalmer area.

While joining the Congress, the rebel BJP leader told the NDTV, “No one knows the chief minister better and I will not attack her because it is not my culture. Her (Scindia’s) defeat is pre-ordained.”

Also read: Former BJP MLA Manvendra Singh Joins Congress Ahead of Rajasthan Polls

In a bid to contain the Rajput anger, BJP president Amit Shah tried to appoint central minister and Rajput leader Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as the state BJP unit’s president, but Scindia apparently shot down the idea, causing further anger among Rajputs. After much deliberations, Madan Lal Saini, an OBC leader, became the consensus candidate and he was appointed as the party’s state president.

The party, however, thought that Manvendra’s exit would have no impact on the BJP. “It will have no effect in Barmer-Jaisalmer belt.“The Congress is helpless. Therefore it is adopting sidelined BJP leaders. It is his personal decision but this is a politically wrong decision. He is not going to get anything with this,” PTI had quoted Rathore as saying.

However, Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot hit back at the BJP, “There is a long list of leaders quitting the BJP and the party should introspect why this is happening,” he said, adding that his party will launch him as one of the star campaigners for the assembly polls.