Two Jats are set to face off for the Lok Sabha seat of Nagaur in Rajasthan but beyond caste, the two contestants couldn’t be more dissimilar.
The Congress’ Jyoti Mirdha, 46, and heir to the political legacy of her illustrious grandfather and six time MP Nathuram Mirdha, faces Hanuman Beniwal, 47, of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, who flaunts his image as a modern day Robin Hood, popular among the youth for his aggressive political style.
“ Barobar ki takkar hai (It’s a close contest),” says Kamal Mahaiya, an octogenarian summing up the contest.
The BJP has strategically stepped out of the ring in Nagaur, choosing to support Mr. Beniwal — the only seat it has given up out of 25 in Rajasthan. The party’s Union Minister of State C.R. Chaudhary is sitting the election.
However, the absence of the BJP is unlikely to dramatically alter the electoral equations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi continuing to dominate the narrative and major question being whether he should get another term as Prime Minister.
Nagaur has traditionally been a Congress stronghold. In 16 general elections held from 1952, the Congress has held the seat 10 times. Of these, Ms Mirdha’s grandfather and Jat leader Nathuram Mirdha won the seat five times on a Congress ticket and in 1989 as a Janata Dal candidate. Mr. Mirdha’s popularity is evident in the fact that his was one of the only two seats that Congress won in 1977.
The BJP has wrested this seat only thrice — in 1997, 2004 and 2014.
Yet, despite her political legacy, Ms Mirdha, whose husband Narender Gehlaut is part owner of the financial firm India Bulls, is fighting the outsider tag. “Where will we go looking for Jyoti? She does not live here while Beniwal is a local and is only a phone call away,” says Pema Ram, from Kuchhera, Ms. Mirdha’s own village.
Mr. Beniwal’s aggressive politics is unquestionably popular especially among the youth. Among his main achievements that his supporters tout is having forced the State government to waive the toll tax and electricity bills for farmers. “ Beniwal toh hamara Modi hai (Beniwal is our Modi),” says Bhura Ram, a local teacher.
Several voters echo the sentiment and say they are voting for Mr. Modi via Mr. Beniwal.
Mr. Beniwal has been claiming that he tied up with the BJP for “ rashtrahit ” or national interest. And in his rallies he does not fail to give the BJP due credit. “ Chunav toh BJP lad rahi hai, hamara toh sirf chinh hai (BJP is fighting here, ours is just symbol),” he said during a recent rally.
In 2014, Mr. Beniwal who fought as an independent won 1.6 lakh votes. Ms Mirdha lost to the BJP’s Mr. Chaudhary by nearly 75,000 votes.
However, the Congress is confident that this time it being a direct contest with Mr Beniwal and without a third spoiler, their chances are brighter.
The caste equations also favour the Congress. There are 4.5 lakh Jat voters who may be divided between both Ms Mirdha and Mr Beniwal. “If BJP had put up even a tree I would have voted for it,” says Hari Ram, a Jat from Mundwa.
Muslims voters are the second big chunk here, who are backing the Congress. There are another 4.5 lakh Dalit voters, who have been speaking favourably of the Congress.
“Modi ji may have a national impact but for us here it Jyoti Mirdha,”says Chota Ram Roz, a Dalit from Inana village. He claims that during her term in 2009, Ms. Mirdha did a lot of developmental works in the area.
He also questions the hype over national security. “Air Force planes may have gone across to Pakistan but where is the evidence how many got killed?” he adds.
The pro-Modi narrative among the dominant Jat community, is countered by several dissenting voices. Jaiprakash Borana, a pharma executive from an OBC community, lists his disappointments with the BJP, though he voted for the party in 2014.
His main grouse is with demonetisation which he blames for rising unemployment. He is backed by Shehzad, a young voter and a daily wager. “Modi ji is still in opposition mode, he is no longer talking about the issues that he spoke of like development during the 2014 campaign,”