After bagging one seat each in the recent Rajasthan Assembly by-elections, the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party are again engaged in a battle of the ballot. This time they are testing their popularity at the grassroots level in civic polls.
The stakes are high. In the thick of this electoral battle are 46 civic bodies: four municipal corporations, 11 municipal councils and 31 municipalities. Polling is scheduled for this coming Monday.
These civic polls are considered by political observers here as a test of the popularity of individual local leaders; for the first time now the mayors and chairpersons are to be elected directly by the citizens. All along so far it was the elected councillors and ward members who used to elect from among them the mayor or the presiding person. In this upcoming poll, every voter out of a total electorate of 56.59 lakh in 1,612 wards will have to vote twice -- for the mayor/chairperson and for the councillor/ward member.
Senior leaders of both the Congress and the BJP are playing it safe by not over-indulging themselves in the campaign at the State level. The leaders, including Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his senior ministerial colleagues, are confining themselves to their own areas so that their base as well as prestige in the localities remains. Things are not easy for many of them as the selection of candidates has thrown up a lot of rebels from within their parties.
Though too much of aloofness is not possible for the parties for whom the stakes are really high, both the Congress and the BJP have not involved any leader from outside for the campaigns. The surprise of the season perhaps is veteran Congress leader and former Gujarat Governor Nawal Kishore Sharma, engaged in the campaign for Jaipur’s mayoral candidate, Jyoti Khandelwal. Mr. Sharma had renewed his Congress membership after his return to Jaipur from Ahmadabad at the end of his gubernatorial innings.
The significance of these elections cannot be wished away by the parties as major municipal corporations such as Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kota and Bikaner are going to the polls along with municipal councils like Udaipur, Pali, Alwar, Tonk, Sikar, Churu and Sriganganagar.
While the prestige of Mr. Gehlot is directly involved in the elections from Jodhpur and Jaipur, his senior ministerial colleague Shanti Dhariwal is holding the fort in Kota.
Union Rural Development Minister C. P. Joshi has to look after the Mewar region along with Girija Vyas, Member of Parliament from Chittorgarh and Chairperson of the National Commission for Women. Union Minister of State for Finance Namo Narain Meena too has been addressing meetings in support of candidates in his area.
Even as campaigning drew to a close on Saturday, former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had not campaigned for anyone in the current polls. The party’s State president Arun Chaturvedi has joined the BJP candidates in their campaigns across Jodhpur, Alwar and Bharatpur while former State Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria has been spearheading the campaign in the Mewar region. Former State presidents of the BJP, Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi and Raghuveer Singh Kaushal, have been campaigning in the Kota region.
Ms. Raje’s absence in the campaign only shows that she is yet to come to terms with the party high command in New Delhi after her forced exit as the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly last month. Her erstwhile ministerial colleagues have all been busy campaigning in their respective areas. Omprakash Mathur, who preceded Mr. Arun Chaturvedi as the State BJP president, too has kept away from the campaign.