Jaipur: Putting to rest speculation about bringing in new faces to fight anti-incumbency, the Bhartiya Janta Party in Rajasthan retained 85 existing MLAs, mostly Vasundhara Raje’s confidantes, in its first list of 131 candidates that was announced late on Sunday night.
The move is being seen as Raje’s attempt to prioritise her own politics over the party’s chances in the state assembly election. The rift between BJP president Amit Shah and Raje was laid bare when she opposed the former’s choice, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, for state unit chief and brought in Rajya Sabha MP and RSS veteran Madan Lal Saini.
It is believed that Raje has retained her group of ‘yes men’ in the first list. Ashok Parnami, Rajendra Rathore, Ajay Singh Kilak, Vasudev Devnani, Kiran Maheshwari and Arun Chaturvedi, considered close confidantes of Raje, have made it to the list. The chief minister is set to contest from her home-turf, Jhalrapatan constituency in Jhalawar district.
The candidates for the remaining 69 constituencies have not yet been announced.
Considerable RSS representation
Raje, who earlier didn’t have a cordial relationship with the Sangh parivar, met RSS functionaries earlier this month to build bridges. As a result, prominent RSS faces have been included, sidelining existing MLAs.
Madan Dilawar, an RSS poster boy, replaced Chandrakanta Meghwal, the current legislator from the Scheduled Caste reserved Ramganj Madi seat. Dilawar wasn’t on talking terms with Raje after he was denied a ticket to contest in the 2008 and 2013 assembly elections.
In Alwar, where votes are believed to be cast purely on the basis of religion and caste, Sanjay Sharma, a key RSS functionary replaced current legislator Banwari Lal Singhal.
Similarly, in Amber, RSS volunteer Satish Poonia was given another shot despite losing the 2013 election.
In Muslim-dominated Nagaur constituency, both the Congress and BJP had fielded Muslim candidates in the last assembly polls. However, the BJP has dropped the winner Habibur Rahman in favour of Mohan Ram Chaudhary, a Sangh affiliate, prompting Rahman to resign from the party. So far, there is no Muslim candidate in the party’s list.
Changes in reserved constituencies
In 15 reserved constituencies, the BJP has replaced winning candidates. This has been attributed to the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) decision to contest all 200 seats this year.
From the Bayana constituency reserved for SC candidates in Gurjar-dominated Bharatpur, Ritu Banawat, wife of a former parcharak of RSS’s student wing ABVP, has been given the ticket, bypassing the current legislator, Bachchu Singh. Last elections, Banawat had contested as an independent candidate, losing by a margin of 5,811 votes.
In Bharatpur’s Nadbai constituency, that the ticket was given to Krishnendra Kaur (Deepa), a three-time MLA who is facing anti-incumbency, will affect the BJP’s votes in other seats of the district.
In another SC reserved seat in Jalore, Jogeshwar Garg, former minister and RSS associate replaced Amrita Meghwal, who had won with a comfortable margin of over 46,800 votes.
Losing candidates retained
Interestingly, some of the candidates who lost in 2013 assembly elections were retained. These include Balveer Luthra from Raisingh Nagar (SC), Sumit Godara from Lunkaransar, Satish Poonia from Amber, Harish Chandra Kumawat from Dantaramgarh, Jaswant Gurjar from Bari, Babu Lal Kharadi from Jhadol (ST) and Khemraj Garasiya from Bagidora (ST).
The BJP hasn’t been able to win the Lunkaransar seat for the past ten years. Manik Chand Surana, an independent candidate, won in the last election and Congress’s Virendra Beniwal emerged victorious in 2008. However, Godara was given another chance.
In Sikar’s Dantaramgarh seat, the party has retained faith in Harish Chandra Kumawat, who had lost to the Congress’s Narayan Singh. Interestingly, left organisations have been quite active in the region, leading many farmers’ protest during the past five years.
Khemraj Garasiya, a close confidante of both Raje and home minister Gulab Chand Kataria, has been once again fielded in the popular Bagidora seat despite facing defeat last time. Both Raje and Kataria have organised several rallies and meeting in the Gangad talai area of the constituency over the past five years.
New faces within the family
Out of the 25 new faces named in the list, at least ten are family members of the existing legislators or previous candidates. These include Kailash Meghwal, son of Pilani MLA Sunder Lal; Gurbeer Singh, grandson of Sadulshahar MLA Gurjant Singh; Golma Devi Meena, wife of Kirori Lal Meena; Poonam Kanwar, daughter-in-law of Devi Singh Bhati; Hemant Meena, son of Pratapgarh’s Nand Lal Meena; Atul Bhansali, nephew of Jodhpur MLA Kailash Bhansali; Manjeet Chaudhary, son of Mundawar’s MLA late Dharam Pal Choudhary; Rajendra Meena, son of Bamanwas’s Kunji Lal Meena; Shailesh Singh, son of Deegh Kumher’s BJP candidate Digamber Singh and Ram Swaroop Lamba, son of late MP Sanwar Lal Jat.
Octogenarians in the list
The list also include a few octogenarians – Suryakanta Vyas (80) aka Jiji from Jodhpur’s Soorsagar and Kailash Chandra Meghwal (84) from Shahpura, the legislative assembly’s speaker.
Some candidates who were denied the party ticket have resigned. BJP MLA and public health and engineering department minister Surendra Goyal resigned on Monday. He announced he would contest the Jaitaran seat independently. Habibur Rahman also resigned.
With the BJP retaining many incumbent legislators, it will be interesting to if the Congress can use the opportunity to swing the anti-incumbency sentiment in its favour.