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Battle Royale in Rajasthan: Can Modi Wave Outlast Congress' Jobs Pitch?

In a high-stakes clash, the BJP is keen for a 25-0 hat-trick but the Congress is keen to prevent a clean sweep.

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As a scorching summer rages on, the desert state of Rajasthan is all set for a sizzling climax to the electoral showdown between the traditional rivals –the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. With the remaining 13 seats voting on 26 April, the second phase of the Lok Sabha polls implies a grand finale to the largely bipolar battle in Rajasthan.

In this high-stakes clash, the BJP is keen for a 25-0 hat-trick but the Grand Old Party is determined to prevent a clean sweep and has even forged alliances to combat the saffron surge.

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Why the BJP Went Big on Its Rajasthan Campaign

In defending its seats across Rajasthan, the BJP has campaigned with its big guns blazing. Even in the week between the first and the second phase, the BJP deployed all its top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath to woo voters in Rajasthan.

The Congress too has mobilised its stalwarts from party chief Mallikarjun Kharge to Sonia Gandhi, Rahul, and Priyanka Gandhi to prevent the washout the party suffered in the state in the last two Lok Sabha polls.

Despite losing to the BJP in Assembly polls last year, political circles are now buzzing that the Congress could snatch some seats this time around.
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The BJP is banking chiefly on PM Modi’s popularity, harping on ‘Modi's Guarantees’, and stressing on the Ram Temple construction to continue its stranglehold on the state. The saffron brigade also slams the Congress on its appeasement politics, and the corruption and paper leak cases during the previous Congress government in the state.

In contrast, the Congress campaign has focused on key economic issues like inflation and unemployment. The party has also raised the issue of misuse of central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to create a narrative that the Constitution and Democracy are under threat.

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Hotly-Contested Seats in Phase 2 Polls

The second phase in Rajasthan features some tough and tantalising battles. Among the most contentious seats is Barmer in the desert zone where Union minister and sitting MP Kailash Choudhary is pitted against Congress' Ummedaram Beniwal.

Both national parties have fielded Jat candidates in this seat where the Jats form the largest vote bank. But it’s a 26-year-old Rajput candidate –Ravindra Bhati – who is creating the biggest buzz.

Fighting as an independent, Bhati’s strong grassroots campaign focuses on issues like water scarcity, unemployment, and the alleged neglect of the youth in this desert region. Bhati’s aggressive campaign has made Barmer a triangular contest, upset BJP-Congress calculations, and made it the most captivating battle of Rajasthan.

The other Modi minister battling in the second phase, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, hopes to clinch a hat-trick of wins in Jodhpur. Despite his huge victories in 2014 and 2019, sources suggest that Shekhawat now faces not just a two-term anti-incumbency but also an internal challenge as some sitting BJP MLAs in Jodhpur are unhappy with him.

To corner Shekhawat, the Congress has fielded its state general secretary Karan Singh Uchiyarda, a known Sachin Pilot aide. Besides Modi's Guarantees and the Ram temple issue, Shekhawat is focusing on his own track record of development initiatives and welfare schemes. In contrast, Uchiyarda is campaigning on issues of unemployment, farmers’ distress and lack of progress in Jodhpur in this battle among Rajput heavyweights.

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Another fierce contest is in Kota, where Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla is grappling with Congress candidate Prahlad Gunjal who switched from the BJP in March. The intense Birla-Gunjal rivalry has been an open secret for years and this contest is being billed as the 'Grudge Match’ of Rajasthan’s Lok Sabha battle.

What adds special spice to this showdown is that Gunjal was a staunch Vasundhara Raje loyalist while Birla belongs to the RSS lobby that has always opposed the former Rajasthan CM.

In the bitter Birla-Gunjal exchanges, issues have become a casualty, and even student suicides that have often rocked Kota in recent years hardly figure in the electoral discourse. As Birla seeks a third term from the seat, Gujjar strongman Gunjal is giving him a really tough test.
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For the Congress, the Jalore seat is a pivotal battleground where former CM Ashok Gehlot’s son, Vaibhav, is battling BJP newbie Lumbaram Chaudhary. In 2019, Vaibhav had contested from the Jodhpur seat but was routed by BJP’s Shekhawat.

Though Gehlot junior is trying to carve his own identity, it's really the three-time CM’s prestige which is at stake here. Actively involved in this campaign, the former CM has been highlighting his government’s welfare schemes in education, health, and agriculture to boost Vaibhav’s prospects.

Despite its grassroots strength in this region, the BJP is facing an internal rift as it dropped MP Devji Patel’s supporters are miffed with Lumbaram. But PM Modi and Amit Shah have both come in to amplify Lumbaram’s campaign in this high-stakes battle.

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Gujjars vs Meenas: The High-Pitched Battle of East Rajasthan

If Jalore is a prestige battle for Gehlot, a lot is riding for his arch-rival Sachin Pilot in Tonk-Sawai Madhopur, the only seat of East Rajasthan that votes in the second phase. The Congress has fielded sitting MLA Harish Meena, a former DG Police of Rajasthan known for his closeness to Sachin Pilot. He was among the 19 MLAs who had revolted along with Pilot against Gehlot’s leadership in 2020.

Meena is pitted against two-time BJP MP and Gujjar veteran Sukhbir Singh Jaunapuria. The Meenas and Gujjars are traditional rivals in this region and form dominant vote banks in this constituency. In the last Assembly elections, the Congress had suffered heavily as the Gujjars had allegedly deserted the party over the perceived sidelining of Pilot.

Will the Gujjars now support a close Pilot aide or will Jaunpuria sway the community to decide this tough battle?
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The two CP Joshi’s of Rajasthan politics – the BJP Chief from Chittorgarh and Congress veteran and former speaker of Rajasthan Assembly from Bhilwara – will also see their fate being sealed in the second phase. 

Former CM Vasundhara Raje’s son Dushyant Singh will seek a fifth term from Jhalawar where the key question is not so much about who will win but by what margin.

The triangular mess in the tribal Banswara-Dungarpur seat is, however, possibly the most intriguing contest in Rajasthan. The main battle is between Rajkumar Raut of the Bharatiya Adivasi Party (BAP) and BJP’s Mahendrajeet Malviya who recently defected from the Congress despite his closeness to former CM Gehlot.

Though the Congress initially fielded Arvind Damor as its candidate, the party ultimately allied with BAP but shockingly, Damor refused to withdraw his nomination forcing the Congress to expel him from the party.

The Banswara mess in many ways reflects the sinking standards of Indian politics. Despite the Congress goof-up, the BJP-BAP battle in Rajasthan's tribal heartland is said to be a really close contest.
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With Modi Ministers in Fray, How Will the Battle Play Out?

A few days ago, it was in a Banswara rally that PM Modi claimed that if the Congress is elected to power it will give the nation’s wealth to "those who have more children” and "infiltrators” (read Muslims).

The Opposition has slammed Modi for playing divisive politics to woo votes and even many neutrals were shocked by the polarising remarks that possibly reflect the tight fight dominating the Lok Sabha’s second phase of polling. 

With the Lok Sabha Speaker, two Modi ministers, and sons of two former CMs in the fray, the second phase battle in Rajasthan is a searing Congress-BJP contest for supremacy. As the voter turnout dropped by over 6% in the first phase, all parties are making special efforts to get voters to cast their ballots.
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The clash on the 13 seats in the desert state will not only decide Rajasthan's representatives in the Lok Sabha but could also exert a major impact on the national political calculus.

(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 article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  rajasthan elections 

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