By Anil Sharma
Weeks before Rajasthan goes to the polls, the ruling BJP has suffered a double blow, with a prominent farmer leader joining the Aam Admi Party (AAP) and an eminent Rajput leader has switched over to the Congress.
Manvendra Singh, son of former Union minister and senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh, has joined the Congress. Manvendra, a Rajput leader, had contested the 2013 assembly election on a BJP ticket, winning the Sheo constituency in Barmer district. Additionally, Rampal Jat, a former BJP leader and founder of the Kisan Mahapanchayat, has become part of AAP in Rajasthan.
The double blow, coming just ahead of the assembly election slated to be held on December 7, does not augur well for the BJP in Rajasthan as the party is already facing anti-incumbency towards the Vasundhara Raje-led state government as well as the central government.
Jat is a prominent farmer leader and his joining AAP is expected to hit the BJP hard in the rural belt, where the party had polled big in the previous elections.
Flaying the BJP, of which he was once a general secretary, Jat said that farmers are being neglected under the BJP rule and added that his ideology was more suited to that of AAP.
But Jat’s switch to AAP may not hurt the BJP alone. His move will likely cause some disruption to the Congress, which has raised farmer issues in the state, including the high rate of farmer suicides, in a big way during its campaign. Congress state chief Sachin Pilot has been travelling to the Rajasthan’s rural areas and meeting farmers.
AAP comes alive
With Jat now an AAP member, the party, which until now appeared to be in a dormant state, suddenly appears to have come alive. AAP convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will now hold an election rally in Jaipur on October 28. In all, Kejriwal plans to hold about seven rallies in the state ahead of the polls.
AAP is still mulling over whether it will contest all 200 constituencies in Rajasthan even as it considers joining hands with independent MLA Hanuman Beniwal, who is a prominent Jat community leader and is set to launch his political party at a rally in Jaipur on October 29. Beniwal has strong presence, especially in the Nagaur and Barmer areas.
Importantly, although the BJP and Congress do not consider APP to be a threat, with Jat now with AAP, even if the party fails to win any seats it has the power to affect the calculations of both main parties.
Congress gets a fillip
Meanwhile, Manvendra switching over to Congress will also affect the BJP as the Rajput community is already angry with the state government. In the bypolls for the Alwar and Ajmer Lok Sabha seats and the Mandalgarh assembly seat held in January, which all were won by the Congress, the Rajput community voted against the ruling BJP given their anger with the manner in which Jaswant Singh, Manvendra’s father, was treated by the current dispensation. Jaswant wanted to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from the Barmer-Jaisalmer constituency, but was denied the ticket by the BJP. Jaswant subsequently contested the election as an independent candidate. In addition, the Rajput community were also angry at the encounter of gangster Anandpal secondly their anger was related to encounter killing of gangster Anandpal Singh, and the manner in which the Union and state government handled its concerns with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavaat.
The Rajput community has traditionally been BJP supporters, but with Manvendra—who is admired, has a good reputation and is a popular leader especially in western part of Rajasthan—shifting camp, the Rajput community’s allegiance appears to set to move to the Congress. The Rajput community is a dominant force in at least 35 of the 200 constituencies in the state. This can only be good news for the Congress.
As the election nears, the BJP, Congress, AAP and other parties have begun to campaign and choose their candidates. Around the country, elections are fought and candidates are chosen on caste lines, and this holds true in Rajasthan as well, across party lines.
Anil Sharma is a political analyst and senior journalist.
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