In Focus | Rajasthan 2018

Congress eyes revival, Left rises in Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region

The Congress party, which won only five of the 21 seats in Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region in 2013 after bagging 13 in 2008, is eyeing a revival in its fortunes in the hotbed of Jat politics in the State as it banks on anti-incumbency against the ruling BJP. Meanwhile, riding on the agrarian crisis, unemployment and water scarcity, the Left front is also emerging as a contender.

Northern Rajasthan’s semi-arid Shekhawati, dominated by the Jat community, comprises Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu districts. While the Jats have traditionally aligned with the Congress, independents, the Bahujan Samaj Party and Communist Party of India (Marxist) have thrown up challenges to both the BJP and Congress in the past.

CPI(M) State Secretary Amra Ram, who is at the forefront of an alliance of seven Left and socialist parties with a limited presence in the State, hails from Sikar’s Dhod tehsil. The Loktantrik Morcha alliance, launched by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda in Jaipur last month, will test the political waters in Shekhawati and elsewhere.

Mr. Ram, a farmers’ leader and vice-president of the All India Kisan Sabha, was elected an MLA on the CPI(M) ticket for four straight terms between 1993 and 2008. The CPI(M) had three members in the 2008 State Assembly, but drew a blank in the 2013 Assembly polls.

While the region is known for its wealthy merchants who travelled and established some of the country’s well-known industrial groups, local farmers have had to contend with scarcity of water and declining productivity of land. No major canal supplies water here and the underground water table has been falling — an issue that has remained a recurrent electoral theme.

Educational hub

Interestingly, Shekhawati has been an educational hub for the last 100 years, with co-educational institutions like Poddar College of Nawalgarh and the schools in Fatehpur and Laxmangarh established around 1920. Sikar’s Shri Kalyan Government College has been a nursery for the Students’ Federation of India and the Left parties and counts Mr. Ram as an alumnus.

Named the Chief Ministerial candidate by the Loktantrik Morcha, Mr. Ram has said the CPI(M) will contest 29 Assembly seats in the State.

Congress leader Subhash Maharia, who was a BJP MP between 1998 and 2009 and served as a Union Minister in the earlier NDA government, told The Hindu that there was resentment among Jats over their “inadequate representation” in the State government. Any understanding between Jats and the Dalits and Muslims — the other major sections of population — was likely to affect the prospects of the BJP, which won 11 seats in Shekhawati in 2013, he said.

Mr. Maharia’s younger brother and independent MLA from Fatehpur, Nand Kishore Maharia, has staked his claim for the Congress ticket from the same constituency. He has been a vocal advocate for promoting crops that consume less water and for formulating a scheme to bring water from rivers in Haryana and Punjab to the region’s fields.

Grassroots issues key

Sikar-based political analyst Ashfaq Kayamkhani said while Mr. Subhash Maharia’s standing in the Congress had risen since his entry in 2016 — he was tasked with organising major programmes including the October 25 rally of party president Rahul Gandhi — memories of last year’s CPI(M)-led 13-day-long farmers’ agitation were still fresh among the electorate. The BJP government had been forced to accept 11 of the farmers’ demands in the wake of that stir.

As 45-year-old Manohar Singh Shekhawat, a resident of Lohargal village, pithily observed, the selection of candidates with a grip on the grassroots would be key to any party’s success. “The arrogance of elected representatives has angered the humble voters of Shekhawati. They would like their MLAs to resolve their grievances about basic issues of farming and livelihood.”

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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 8:48:34 PM |

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