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New Districts, New Conflicts: Will Gehlot's Rajasthan Poll Strategy Bounce?

The Congress has much to introspect on how to salvage the situation and restore stability before the polls.

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It was billed as a 'masterstroke’ to secure an electoral win for the ruling Congress in Rajasthan.

But more than 100 days after Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced the creation of 19 new districts, there is no finality over implementing the decision on the ground. Instead, what has unfolded is a series of frictions and flare-ups that reflect the huge headache this undertaking has become for Gehlot in the midst of an election year.

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Mounting Public Resentment 

The most recent row is over the new Dudu district that is to be created out of Jaipur. Though the decision had sparked protests in March itself in Sambhar-Phulera-Jobner towns of Jaipur, the resentment among people opposing the merger of these towns in the said district reached a crescendo on 25 June, last Sunday. While the villagers hurled stones at the cops, the police retaliated with lathi charges and tear gas to disperse the unruly crowds blocking the Jaipur-Ajmer highway.

Highlighting the magnitude of public anger, this fracas underscores the potential political threat posed by the tricky task of creating new districts.

Facing mounting pressure, CM Gehlot was compelled to convene an urgent meeting of Congress MLAs of the region to check the escalating crisis. However, the possibility of now creating a new ‘Rural Jaipur’ district reveals that the original decision was made in haste without proper attention to local realities and sentiments. This lack of foresight has led to numerous conflicts and opposition in a large number of districts.

One striking example is the new Didwana-Kuchaman district carved out of Nagaur which is witnessing a major clash as both towns are vying to become district headquarters. In addition, residents of Sujangarh in the area want their town to be made a separate district and have been agitating repeatedly for the past three months. Similarly, resentment is brewing over the proposal to make Kekri a district by merging parts of the Ajmer, Bhilwara, and Tonk districts. However, many citizens of Masuda, Vijaynagar, and Malpura towns are vehemently opposed to being included in the new Kekri district.

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Similar sentiments are being echoed in other areas.

When Sanchore in west Rajasthan was made a new district out of Jalore, the people of the Bhinmal tehsil came out in agitation. They want Bhinmal to be made a district instead of Sanchore, or else they should be kept as a part of Jalore. In north Rajasthan, Anupgarh will become a new district out of Sriganganagar district, but several areas are opposing their inclusion in the new district. Suratgarh town in the area is also seeing regular protests for making it a separate district.

In east Rajasthan, Deeg is being created as a new district from Bharatpur. But the people of Kumher town are up in arms at being included in Deeg as they wish to remain a part of Bharatpur. Furthermore, in Alwar, many are outraged over the choice of establishing Khairthal as a district instead of the industrial town of Bhiwadi.

Some reports suggest public protests are now going on in 15 of the 19 new districts that are slated to be formed. 

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Resistance from Congress MLAS

Embarrassingly, in many areas, it is leaders and MLAs of the ruling Congress who are against the decisions of the Gehlot government.

Rakesh Pareek, the Congress MLA from Masuda, has openly opposed the splitting of the Masuda constituency into two districts and is aligned with those who wish to remain a part of Ajmer.

Former MLA and senior Congress leader Surendra Vyas has expressed strong opposition to the shifting of Malpura to the Kekri district and has written to Ram Lubhaya, the Chairman of the Committee for New Districts, about the public anger over this plan.

In a similar vein, Sandeep Yadav, the Congress MLA from Tijara in Alwar was the first to raise the banner of revolt. Opposing the decision to establish Khairthal as a new district instead of Bhiwadi, he even resigned from his position as the Chairman of the Bhiwadi Development Board.   

Likewise,  Congress MLA Ved Prakash Solanki, a staunch Sachin Pilot supporter, has publicly asserted that his area of Chaksu will not go to Dudu district under any circumstance.

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Big Loss or Political Gain?

Apart from mounting public resentment in various areas, the delay and tardy progress in completing the demarcation exercise is adding fuel to the fire. Even three months after Gehlot’s announcement, the inclusion of specific areas in each new district is unclear while the government notification about a revised district map of Rajasthan remains elusive. Instead, public anger and widespread protests across the state have overshadowed the dream of creating new districts.

With Assembly Elections looming ahead, there are valid concerns about the potential political damage this situation could inflict upon Congress. Many party MLAs and Ministers, who initially got felicitated for the formation of new districts, are now facing a tough time. In the election year, the formation of new districts is rapidly turning into a major challenge and several MLAs are now worried. They admit in private that the creation of new districts could cause them a big loss rather than a political gain.

Besides threatening Congress prospects in the upcoming polls, this scenario presents an opportunity for the BJP to exploit the situation and fuel public resentment. Political experts believe the prevailing complexities may provide the BJP a chance to intensify people’s anger as the poll battle heats up. Many BJP leaders are already asserting that the issue of new districts has become a noose around the Gehlot government.   

The Congress was hoping the creation of new districts would be a game-changer in the upcoming polls. While the jury is still out on whether the new districts will ensure electoral gains, they have certainly opened Pandora’s box. As elections draw closer and conflicts intensify, these complications could deepen fissures within the Congress. Many in the party say that dubious feedback was given to CM Gehlot by some officials and people's representatives and that has now turned the creation of new districts into a serious crisis.

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As the clock ticks closer to elections, time is of the essence, for unless the disputes are effectively resolved, Gehlot’s 'masterstroke’ may boomerang into a political nightmare for the Congress party.

With Rajasthan polls barely five months away, the Congress leadership has much to chew and introspect on how to salvage the situation, restore stability, and regain public confidence.

(The author is a veteran journalist and expert on Rajasthan politics. Besides serving as a Resident Editor at NDTV, he has been a Professor of Journalism at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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