Rebellion, dissidence and accommodation of defectors likely to cost the party some of the 25 seats
After its more-than-impressive performance in last year’s Assembly election in Rajasthan, the mood for the Lok Sabha election looked set in Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) favour.
Then, it had seemed winning all 25 Parliamentary seats would be a cakewalk for the BJP, given the anti-Congress mood reflected in the Assembly polls. But post-Assembly poll, developments suggest the BJP may have squandered that opportunity.
So while the BJP still looks set for an impressive haul, it does not appear to be headed towards realising Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s ambitious ‘Mission-25’, the quest for a clean sweep.
Interestingly enough, the strongest challenge to Mission-25 comes not so much from the Congress, but from the party’s own loyalists-turned-outcasts.
In Barmer — arguably the State’s selling point in the national media this poll season — the BJP could have had a smooth ride. Instead, it chose to scorn senior leader and long-time loyalist Jaswant Singh for a former Congress MLA who had joined the BJP three days before being chosen the party candidate from this seat.
“There is no dearth of committed party members (from the Jat community) ... I would have supported any of them as the BJP candidate, but I assert I simply cannot support a Congress defector with a questionable public record,” Mr. Jaswant Singh had said after being expelled from the party last month.
With the BJP forcing the rise of a rebel in Mr. Singh, the sleepy, nondescript western Rajasthan region too, has transformed into a theatre of mass political action, hosting the hottest electoral contest in the State.
While the chief contest here features Mr. Singh — finding strong emotional support from people over the party ‘betraying’ him — against the BJP’s Sonaram Chaudhary, sitting MP and Congress candidate Harish Chaudhary would expect to benefit from the BJP’s internal predicament and from caste equations gone awry.
In Sikar, the decision to accommodate yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s request and field Swami Sumedhanand as the BJP candidate could prove costly to the party.
Miffed at being ignored, former Union Minister Subhash Maharia has declared open rebellion and is running as an independent, and local BJP workers have all but thrown their weight behind Mr. Maharia.
In both Barmer and Sikar, the party barely managed to pull the workers back into its fold after they broke out in protest, attacking Sumedhanand’s convoy in Sikar and locking the Barmer district party office in Mr. Singh’s favour.
Other high-stake constituencies where the BJP faces a tough contest with the Congress and is completely relying on the ‘Modi wave’ are Jaipur (Rural) and Ajmer. In Jaipur Rural, former Olympian Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore faces senior Congress leader and former Union Minister C.P. Joshi.
After Barmer, this could well be the constituency to watch out for.
In Ajmer, State Congress president Sachin Pilot is up against Sanwarlal Jat, a Minister in the Vasundhara Raje Cabinet.
While the Gurjar and Jat votes are already completely polarised in favour of Mr. Pilot and Mr. Jat, the result of this contest could depend on how the other castes, including the lower castes, vote.
Mr. Pilot enjoys massive popular support here, while Mr. Jat is banking on the pro-Modi sentiment among the people.
But while poll analysts are not willing to give the Congress much chance, Mr. Pilot seems confident of the party performing well. “We had won 20 seats in the last Parliamentary polls. So this time we are hoping to at least touch that figure,” he told The Hindu.