Rebel thickens the plot in Bikaner

Union Minister Arjun Meghwal’s defence of the seat is threatened by a seven-time MLA’s exit from BJP

May 02, 2019 10:59 pm | Updated 10:59 pm IST - BIKANER

BJP candidate and Union Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal campaigning in Bikaner.

BJP candidate and Union Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal campaigning in Bikaner.

The BJP’s inability to control rebellion in its rank and file, after the exit of its veteran Rajput leader Devi Singh Bhati, has created a difficult situation in Bikaner for its candidate Arjun Ram Meghwal, who was earlier expecting to notch a hat-trick in the reserved Lok Sabha constituency. Former Minister Devi Singh Bhati, who quit the party last month, has upset all electoral calculations.

Union Minister of State for Water Resources Mr. Arjun Ram — two-time MP from Bikaner — is pitted against his own cousin Madan Gopal Meghwal, who is in the fray as a Congress candidate for the first time. Interestingly, both the candidates have served the government as civil servants in the past.

Mr. Arjun Ram had entered politics in 2009 after resigning from the Indian Administrative Service and won the Bikaner Lok Sabha seat. The younger cousin, Mr. Madan Gopal, has made a debut in politics after taking voluntary retirement from Indian Police Service before the 2018 State Assembly elections. He had earlier unsuccessfully tried for a Congress ticket from Khajuwala seat.

Though shortage of water for irrigation, slowdown in handicraft industry and declining figures in animal husbandry are some of the problems affecting the locals, the electorate here has depicted an inclination to cast ballot on the issues which are publicised by the rival parties as “national” ones. National security and the country’s defence preparedness are major themes in the BJP’s election campaign this time.

The Bikaner seat has been a stronghold of the BJP since 2004, when film actor Dharmendra had won on the party’s ticket. It was reserved for Scheduled Castes in the 2009 delimitation exercise, after which the caste equations changed and Dalits and Other Backward Classes registered a shift towards Congress. Earlier, former Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar was elected on the Congress ticket from here in 1998.

Mr. Bhati, a seven-time MLA from Kolayat, resigned from the BJP in protest against the ticket being given to Mr. Arjun Ram, whom he blamed for the party’s defeat in the Assembly election. In an act of rebellion, a large number of party workers have since come out in Mr. Bhati’s support. Moreover, Mr. Bhati has extended his unconditional support to the Congress candidate, though he has not joined the party.

While Mr. Madan Gopal affirms that he respects Mr. Arjun Ram as his elder cousin despite differences in their political ideologies, Mr. Bhati’s supporters have been disrupting the latter’s public meetings and have clashed with the BJP members during the election campaign. On the day Mr. Arjun Ram filed his nomination papers, the rebels came out in large numbers and created a tumult by releasing black balloons which floated along the sky.

Though the BJP’s leadership is worried, the local office-bearers have mostly dismissed Mr. Bhati’s activities as a “nuisance”. Bikaner district BJP president Satyaprakash Acharya claimed while speaking to The Hindu that the people had seen through Mr. Bhati’s ploys and had “in fact mobilised more in favour of our candidate”. Mr. Acharya said since Mr. Bhati was no longer in the BJP, his protests were meaningless.

CPI(M) candidate

The battle on the seat has also become tough this time with the CPI(M) fielding its strong candidate, Shyopat Ram, who was a runner-up in the Assembly election from Sriganganagar district’s Raisingnagar seat. Mr. Ram is among the three candidates who have been fielded by the CPI(M) in the State, the other two contesting from Sikar and Churu.

In his campaign in the rural areas, Mr. Ram has sought the voters’ attention to spiralling prices of fertilisers, pesticides and other agricultural inputs.

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