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In the Battle of Jodhpur, It’s Gehlot Jr Vs Gajendra Shekhawat 

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot’s son or Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who will Jodhpur vote this time?

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Gehlot Junior or Gajendra Singh Shekawat, who will Jodhpur vote this time?
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It’s mid-April and political heat in the Sun City is pushing the mercury to a new high. As the son rises from west, a knight gears up to hold the fort in the western city of Rajasthan – Jodhpur.

Step into the city and the poll frenzy grips you – from party flags to colourful hoardings to a notification bar flooded by political messages on WhatsApp – this is campaigning at its best.

And why not? Jodhpur is one of the most watched contest in the desert state as Vaibhav Gehlot, son of the third-time Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot takes on Union minister and incumbent Member of Parliament Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

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A Matter of Jodhpuri Pride

Let’s look at few aspects that makes Jodhpur a contest to watch. Firstly, pride is at stake.

For Gehlot junior, the legacy of his father built over four decades is at stake, while for Shekhawat, it’s a chance to assert his stamp as a mass leader in the gateway to western Rajasthan.

Gehlot maintains that he has been actively working behind the scenes for the last 15 years.

“I started like any other worker in 2004 by working in the mayor elections in Jodhpur. Since then, I have held party positions, campaigned across state and now contesting the Lok Sabha election,” says Gehlot.

Gehlot senior has represented the seat five of the eight times that the Congress party has won Jodhpur parliament seat and has been an MLA from Sardarpura for equal number of time. Since 1980, when Ashok Gehlot won this seat for the first time, he has dominated the politics in Marwar. Over the last three decades, no politician from any party has come close second in terms of popularity.

This is where Shekhawat comes into picture with prominence. Over the last five years, making most of the opportunity as a minister in Union cabinet, he has been able to carve a niche for himself not just in Jodhpur, but the region too.

Cast in the Mould of Caste

There are 19.2 lakh registered voters across eight Assembly segments in Jodhpur. In the last Lok Sabha polls, Gajendra Singh polled a massive 66 percent votes, while the Congress could merely garner 28 percent votes.

In 2014, with seven Assembly segments of the eight under the BJP, Singh walked into the Parliament smiling with a 4,10,051 vote victory, the highest ever for Jodhpur.

This time around, the tables have turned. The Congress has bagged six of the eight Assembly segments in Jodhpur, which has a tradition of voting for the party in power at Jaipur in Lok Sabha polls.

The castes that would play crucial role in deciding the fate of Jodhpur are Rajput, Jat, Bishnoi, Brahmin, Muslims and Mali. Singh looks set to garner a lead among Rajputs and Brahmins, while Gehlot is sitting comfortable on Muslim and Mali (a community he comes from) votes.

Jats are undecided and may vote as per candidate, but locally, the community doesn’t go well with Rajputs. The Congress tried to get Rashtriya Loktantrik Party leader Hanuman Beniwal into its fold eyeing the Jat votes, but couldn’t get him as he was wanted to contest from Nagur Lok Sabha seat, from where the Congress fielded Jyoti Mirdha.

The BJP sensed an opportunity and rolled the red carpet for Beniwal, who has an influence on Jat votes. His five-month-old party won over 8 lakh votes in Assembly elections.

With Jats undecided, Gehlot has ensured that two-time MP from Jodhpur Jaswant Singh Vishnoi, who was in the fray for candidature from the BJP, is still the Chairman of Rajasthan Khadi Board, a position that Vasundhra Raje government gave him. Though sensing a rebellion, the BJP made him state party Vice President, he is miffed and this might hurt the saffron brigade

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The Perils of Being Similar

Thirdly, it’s a clash of similar approach to politics.

Ashok Gehlot has been a name synonymous with Jodhpur for all these years. He has built this reputation since his university politics days by being people’s man and that too soft spoken. As the saying goes locally, main thansu door nahi (I am not far from you), Gehlot is always a call away from Jodhpur.

Shekhawat, who started his career as a student leader as well, has followed suit. Before emerging on the national scene, he was the quintessential party man who cut his teeth in politics by being an active member of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Seema Jan Kalyan Samiti.

Like Gehlot of yore, he too can be seen crisscrossing the narrow city lanes of Jodhpur riding pillion on bikes or even walking and mingling with people.

Both leaders have an impeccable habit of remembering people by their names and greeting them personally. While Gehlot would make sure to shake hands with his followers, Shekhawat’s hugs aren’t any less popular.

It’s PM vs CM

Fourth comes the question that is bothering many in Jodhpur. Should we vote in the name of the chief minister or should we vote for the future prime minister? Put this across to Shekhawat and he laughs it off.

“I have been lucky that people have supported me and liked my work. I am a dedicated worker and will take any role the party offers,” he adds.

A year back, Shekhawat was the frontrunner for top job at the state BJP after the party suffered by-poll debacle in two Parliamentary seats and one Assembly seat. His plans went awry as Madan Lal Saini was made the BJP state president. If he emerges victorious on 23 May, many in the city believe he might as well be the next chief ministerial candidate from the BJP.

Finally, it boils down to the big question, will a vote seeking return of Prime Minister Modi help Gajendra Singh or will the emerging son who asserts his credentials of being a party worker for last 15 years appeal to the people of Jodhpur.

The BJP brigade hopes that despite all the attempts by the state government to lure voters, once prime minister holds his rallies in Barmer on 21 April and Jodhpur on 22 April, the mood will swing in their favour.

“Last time PM Modi held a rally in 2014, their was no place at the venue to stand. Locals rushed in numbers and even markets were closed. This time too similar scenes will happen and lotus will emerge victorious,” says Rishab Purohit who is volunteering for the BJP campaign in ward 44 of the walled city.

Whatever be the outcome, the next fortnight looks all set for intense political firework in the Blue City.

(The writer is founder of @journalism_talk. He tweets@avinashkalla. This is an opinion piece. 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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