The ground is shifting in Ajmer and Alwar, two Lok Sabha constituencies that the Congress won with massive leads just 15 months back, in January 2018. With the exit of the Vasundhra Raje government, the absence of Gujjar leader Sachin Pilot in Chief Minister’s seat, and the Ashok Gehlot government failing to deliver on the promised farm loan waiver, voters may be moving away from the Congress. Above all is the looming image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the many stories swirling around him taking the proportion of an urban legend.
Ajmer and Alwar constituencies are nearly 270 km apart from each other, yet the narrative in the both of them is similar. In January 2018, the Congress had won the Ajmer constituency by a margin of over 84,000 votes, and Alwar by a gap of 1.97 lakh votes, but the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is picking up pace in both these seats.
The January 2018 by-polls, necessitated by the deaths of the respective Lok Sabha MPs, were the first expression of anger against the Vasundhra Raje government by the Rajasthan electorate.
‘Feat like no other’
Shankar Das of the Badgaon village in Ajmer says that Mr. Modi’s photographs have been put up in the United States’ White House, a feat no other Prime Minister of India could achieve. Narendra Chhaudhary, who is sitting beside him, piped in, “ Pehle bachhe tyre chalate the , ab internet chalate hai . Paanch saal main Modi ne tehelka macha diya (‘Earlier, kids used to play with old tyres and now they are hooked to the Internet. In five years, Modi has made a splash.’).”
In Madhogarh, about 25 km from Alwar, Sukhram Poswal has a long list of what Narendra Modi has done. He claims India is now ranked sixth, without explaining on which list or what terms. “Modi- ji has stopped milk and tomato exports to Pakistan. Milk sells at ₹200 per kg and they have no tomatoes. He has also shut down water supply to Pakistan under the Indus water treaty and that water will be supplied to Rajasthan,” Mr. Poswal said confidently.
Among the BJP’s supporters, discussions around elections ultimately distil down to the Balakot attack and the return of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman from Pakistan.
Unlike the BJP voter, the average Congress supporter is less articulate and doesn’t wave a long list of reasons to support the party. “I don’t apply my mind so much. Traditionally, we have been voting for the Congress since the time of our great-grandparents, so I will just continue with it,” said Gopal Bhati, a member of the Mali (Schedule Caste-SC) community in Baansali village near Pushkar.
They are often outnumbered by the more vocal BJP-backers. In Tilora near Pushkar, Gopi Singh finds himself alone in a crowd of over a dozen BJP supporters. His nephew, Gopal Singh holds forth on virtues of the Modi government. “India has never seen a PM like Modi,” the nephew claimed.
In a quick repartee, his uncle Gopi Singh said, “Yes, no other PM since independence has lied so much.”
But Gopi Singh’s arguments are drowned in spontaneous chants of “Modi, Modi...”.
In the January 2018 by-polls and the Assembly polls in December of the same year, the ‘Modi factor’ was not present, which many claim was the reason for the Congress’ victory.
In Ajmer, instead of Raghu Sharma, who won in the by-polls, the Congress has fielded newcomer Riju Jhunjhunwala. He comes from the neighbouring town of Bhilwara and is considered an outsider. A wealthy industrialist and the son-in-law of former Rajasthan Minister Bina Kak, Mr. Jhunjhunwala is a largely unknown figure in the constituency. He is banking on Sachin Pilot’s popularity to see him through, while his opponent Bhagirath Chaudhary is a local businessman and the sitting legislator from the Kisangarh Assembly that falls under the Ajmer seat.
In Alwar, the Congress’ position is complicated by the BJP’s efforts at religious polarisation. Here Mahant Balak Nath is making his debut, taking on the scion of erstwhile rulers of Alwar, Jitendra Singh. Balak Nath’s prime qualification is that he is disciple of Mahant Chand Nath, who won in 2014.
“Congress is only for the Meos [Meo Muslims]. Whenever they come to power, they promote Meos, who once again start their spree of vehicle thefts,” said Jagdish Gujjar, a local, at Natni ka Bara near Alwar said.
The Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Imran Khan, owner of a construction company, is also in the fray. On the ground, however, he is drawing little traction. “Imran Khan is only standing to ensure that the Congress loses by chipping away at the Muslim and Scheduled Caste votes. But he won’t be successful because everyone can see through his game,” Mamrez Khan in Akbarpur, Alwar said.
With a jehla jhoomar in gold weighing down his ears, Madan Lal Chaudhary, a Jat from Baandar Sandri, who voted for Congress in the 2018 by-poll says, “Raghu Sharma [in Ajmer] won only because we wanted to teach Vasundhra Raje a lesson and we did.”
In Alwar, too, a similar sentiment echoes. “We voted for Congress because that election was not about choosing the Prime Minister and we wanted to send out a message against Vasundhra Raje,” says Jitender Chaudhary, Dharampura village in Alwar.
The Gujjar community to which Mr. Sachin Pilot belongs to is vocal against the Congress for not anointing their leader as the CM of Rajasthan. “I had wholeheartedly campaigned and voted for the Congress during the Assembly polls with the hope to see our leader as Chief Minister. But now, it seems pointless,” says Soji Ram, a Gujjar from the Nauhriya village in Ajmer.
This is a common refrain in the Gujjar community in Alwar, too. “The government changed in Rajasthan only because of Sachin Pilot, and yet the Congress did not give him his due,” said Mr. Jagdish at Natni ka Bara.
Delayed loan waiver
The promise of a farm loan waiver may have brought the Congress votes in the Assembly polls but equally, not being able to implement it with alacrity, has left a bitter taste. Only small loans up to ₹ 50,000, largely of those who have not paid up a single instalment, have been waived off.
“Rahul Gandhi said that if the loan is not waived off in ten days, on the 11th day, he would change the Chief Minister. Neither has he changed the Chief Minister nor has the loan been repaid,” said Budha Ram Jat, a farmer in Alwar.