While BJP leaders brainstorm over the division of tickets for the upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections, to be held on December 7, chief minister Vasundhara Raje has already announced her candidacy. She will contest the elections from Jhalrapatan, her traditional seat. This will be the fourth consecutive time she contests the elections from this seat, which is located in the district of Jhalawar.
Last week, in her first visit to Jhalawar since Rahul Gandhi’s tour of Hadoti, Raje announced her candidacy at a BJP booth worker convention in Jhalrapatan. Addressing the convention, she said, “I will contest the next election from Jhalrapatan. I will not fight alone, every member of the Jhalrapatan constituency will fight this election.”
The conjecture that she would not contest from Jhalrapatan has been discredited following Raje’s announcement.
It is worth noting that political circles were rife with speculation that the chief minister would contest the elections from a different constituency this time. As regards the new seat, the name that was thrown up was Rajakhera, a city located in the district of Dholpur.
This speculation intensified when, during a BJP meet held in Jaipur to discuss the allocation of tickets, the regional heads of the party proposed that Raje contest from Rajakhera. Speculation was further kindled when the Congress president of Dholpur, Ashok Sharma, switched sides to join the BJP.
Sharma is the son of Banwari Lal Sharma, a veteran Congress leader and five-time MLA from Dholpur. Their family has considerable influence among the district’s Brahmin. Ever since Sharma joined the BJP, it had been conjectured that the party would field him from Dholpur and that Raje would instead from Rajakhera.
Sources within the BJP say that the regional party heads of Rajakhera proposed Raje’s name upon her instruction, and that Ashok Sharma left the Congress to join the BJP also upon her instruction. That suggests that Raje had indeed decided earlier to contest from Rajakhera. What, in that case, made her suddenly announce that she would contest from Jhalrapatan?
Decision closely linked to Raje’s son’s political future
A local leader who has been close to Vasundhara Raje for the past 30 years said, off the record, that the political future of Raje’s son, Dushyant Singh, currently member of parliament, depends completely on that decision. He said, “Dushyant Singh was elected as an MP three times thanks to his mother. If she contests from some other constituency, there is no chance that he can win,” the leader said.
An analysis of Dushyant Singh’s political career suggests that the local leader’s contention is essentially true. Singh contested for the first time in 2004, for the Lok Sabha seat from Jhalawar. At that time, Raje, who had already been member of parliament five times from the Jhalawar seat, was the chief minister. The command for Singh’s electoral strategy in that election remained entirely in Raje’s hands.
The BJP won 120 of the 200 seats in the vidhan sabha elections that took place only six months before the Lok Sabha elections of 2004. The political mood at the time already favoured the BJP, yet Raje personally saw Singh through to victory. And thus, Singh was able to win quite easily. He defeated Congress’s Sanjay Gurjar by a margin of more than 81,000 votes.
The Lok Sabha elections of 2009 were his most challenging. Six months before, Raje was voted out of power. To contest the election from Jhalawar-Baran, he had neither an army of ministers he could enlist for electoral support, nor the political backing of the state government. That was the reason why Raje remained in Jhalawar-Baran for the entirety of that election.
Raje was given the responsibility to ensure statewide success for the BJP, but she gave precedence to her son over the party. She spent 18 of the last 19 days of the elections in Jhalawar-Baran, campaigning for her son. During that time, she initiated personal contact with many workers and representatives of various communities.
Raje’s strategy paid off. Singh defeated Congress’s Urmila Jain by 52,000 votes. Recollecting that election, one BJP leader said, “Had Raje not spent 18 days in Baran, it would have been very difficult for Singh to win. And had the Congress fielded Pramod Bhaya instead of Urmila Jain, even Raje would have become anxious.”
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections did not pose a challenge. Six months before, the BJP had swept to power in the state, winning 163 of the 200 seats. There was a wave of support and enthusiasm for Narendra Modi in the entire country. Despite these favourable circumstances, Raje did not let go of her control over Singh’s electoral campaign. As a result, Singh won the election with a massive margin of 2,80,000 votes.
Dushyant’s behaviour has alienated senior leaders
According to BJP leaders, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections could prove to be the most challenging of Singh’s political career. One leader, on the condition of anonymity, said, “Because all the old leaders have scattered one-by-one, Singh’s situation does not look very good.”
He said further, “Both party workers and ordinary people are exceedingly unhappy with his attitude towards them. A lot was expected from him because the BJP has been in power at the Centre and because his mother is the chief minister, but very little work was done. The people are especially angry about the state government.”
The political experts of the region also believe that Singh’s behaviour has alienated several people who have stood by Raje for 30 years. The BJP MLA from Chhabra, Pratap Singh Singhvi, is a prominent name in this list. Five-time MLA Singhvi has considerable influence in the politics of the region of Hadoti.
Since the Raje government came into power in 2013, Singhvi has been pushed to the margin. The reason for this is believed to be Raje’s son. It’s widely held by BJP workers that Singhvi’s distinguished status bothers Singh. Again giving precedence to her son, Raje decided to overlook Singhvi when she formed the government.
Raje is however aware that Singhvi’s discontent can hurt her son’s electoral prospects, which is why Singh is now trying to ingratiate himself with Singhvi. That effort could be seen during the Gaurav Yatra, when Raje paid a visit to Singhvi’s electoral district. To what degree this will salve Singhvi’s wounds is yet to be seen.
Besides the discontent of their own party members, the other major worry for Raje and Singh is the discontent among the region’s farmers.
The farmers of Hadoti are in a crisis because they are not unable to sell their produce at suitable prices. Several have taken their lives. Despite the chief minister’s intervention, most farmers have been unable to sell their produce at the minimum support prices. Even in the election season, the government has been unable to secure suitable prices for farmers.
In this situation, had Raje left Jhalrapatan to contest the elections from Rajakhera, the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 would have become too challenging for her son. For this reason she announced her decision to stay and continue contesting elections from Jhalrapatan at the BJP booth workers convention held there and moreover, decided to have both her son, Singh, and his wife, Niharika, accompany her.
Raje seemed very emotional during her announcement. She said, “I have a 30-year long unbroken relationship with Jhalawar, which will remain as long as I breathe. This is not a relationship between chief minister and citizens. This is a relationship between mother and son, between mother and daughter, between brother and sister. The people of this region have given me a lot of love. And I too have done whatever I could for the benefit of Jhalawar-Baran.”
Avadesh Akodia is an independent journalist.
Translated from the Hindi original by Karan Dhingra. You can read the Hindi version here.