Manvendra Singh joins Congress Photograph:( PTI )
If the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP in the State manages to retain power, it would be more on account of disarray in the Congress camp and less due to the BJP’s popularity.
The Rajasthan Assembly election is turning out to be more than an electoral contest; at the highest level, it has become a personal fight. The Congress has shrewdly capitalised on its new entrant Manvendra Singh’s desire for revenge against the Bharatiya Janata Party for having sidelined him as well as his father since 2014.
After his recent arrival to the Congress, Manvendra Singh had expressed disinterest in contesting the Assembly poll, preferring to keep his ammunition dry for the 2019 Lok Sabha battle. But the party’s high command successfully played on his hurt and persuaded him to not just fight the immediate battle but also take on incumbent chief minister Vasundhara Raje in her backyard, Jhalrapatan.
Four years ago, Vasundhara Raje had worked hard to ensure the defeat of Manvendra Singh’s father and then veteran BJP leader Jaswant Singh, who had contested as an independent candidate after the BJP denied him a ticket. Interestingly, the ticket had gone to Col Sonaram, who had crossed over to the party from the Congress and was backed by Vasundhara Raje. And, although Manvendra Singh had continued thereafter as a BJP legislator, he was kept at an arm’s distance by Vasundhara Raje — whose clout ensured that he remained cut off from the party’s central leadership too.
The personal clash between Raje and Jaswant Singh’s family goes back even earlier. In 2007, Jaswant Singh’s wife had filed a case in court against the depiction of Vasundhara Raje as a goddess in one of the posters and alleged that the image had hurt her religious sentiments. In the same year, the Vasundhara Raje regime had been quick to order a probe into an unsubstantiated allegation that guests at a function hosted by Jaswant Singh had been served with opium-laced milk!
Whatever the outcome may be, it is a fact that for now Jhalrapatan is poised for an interesting battle. Manvendra Singh may have preferred a constituency in Barmer for his debut contest as a Congressman, but now he has acquired a pan-Rajasthan image. It cannot be that he is unaware of the pitfalls of a head-on collision with the formidable Chief Minister. If he loses, it will be seen as a grave personal setback; for the Congress, though, it will be just a constituency lost. On the other hand, a victory will strengthen his stature within the Congress. More importantly, though, he will have had his revenge.
But the recent developments are unlikely to bring much cheer to the Congress as far as the Rajput vote-bank in the state is concerned. The Congress has fielded just two candidates from the Marwar region, where the Rajput community has a considerable sway. According to media reports, Manvendra Singh felt that the Congress ought to have given tickets to more Rajputs in the region, though he was quick to state that he had not expressed “displeasure” with the party. In contrast, the BJP has given tickets to as many as 10 Rajput candidates from Marwar. The first list the Congress released had in all 12 Rajputs, a number which was less than even the seats that the Brahmins got. The second list of 40 odd candidates did not improve the position.
Personal rivalry is at play elsewhere too. Sitting Member of Parliament Harish Chandra Meena has joined the Congress, and one reason for his switchover is his opposition to Kirori Lal Meena, who is now in the BJP camp. The two heavyweight Meena leaders could not see eye to eye, with each working overtime to project themselves as the real leader of the community. For the Congress, it’s a welcome development since it could solidify the Meena community’s support for the Congress at a time when the former was feeling left out with the Congress making overtures to its traditional political rivals, the Gujjars and the Jats.
It is possible that Sachin Pilot, a Gujjar, could benefit from this Meena- Gujjar combine development (if it works out), given that he is being talked of as a chief ministerial candidate and would be contesting the Assembly poll. But there is a catch. Senior Congress leader Ashok Gehlot, the other strong contender for chief ministership in case the Congress wins, too is fighting the election. More significantly, the first list of candidates released by the party is said to be loaded in his favour, since many of the names he recommended strongly have found favour with the party’s high command.
For now, though, both Pilot and Gehlot have to tackle internal dissensions over ticket distribution. It may well be that, if the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP in the state manages to retain power, it would be more on account of disarray in the Congress camp and less due to the BJP’s popularity.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)