Manvendra Takes on Raje in a Poll Battle That’s Deeply Personal
For years, the cold war between Vasundhara Raje & Singh family has been the stuff of legend in Rajasthan politics.
The big surprise by the Congress party has made it the ‘big fight’ of the Rajasthan elections, which pits Manvendra Singh, son of former BJP stalwart Jaswant Singh, against Vasundhara Raje.
The Jhalrapatan seat in Jhalawar district will now be the arena for the ‘grudge match’ between Chief Minister Raje and the Jaswant Singh family. And the heavy political missile launched by the Congress will now be the most keenly watched contest of the desert state.
For years, the cold war between Vasundhara Raje and the Jaswant Singh family has been the stuff of legend in Rajasthan politics. Now, for the first time, the two sides will directly square off in the electoral battle. This will be no ordinary poll battle, with a dramatic mix of ego, pride and politics at play. The grudge match involves a deep personal and political family feud that has raged on for over a decade.
While the personal and the political are deeply inter-twined in this battle, first a quick word on the electoral calculus behind the Congress deploying Manvendra.
Why Did the Congress Field Manvendra?
With the spectre of anti-incumbency vote haunting the BJP, this is a clever move to derail Raje’s campaign and confine her energies in her own Jhalrapatan constituency.
By fielding a high-profile candidate like Manvendra, the Congress plans to build psychological pressure on Raje to protect her own seat.
The strategy aims at forcing Vasundhara to spend more time in her own fortress in order to check her – as far as possible - from campaigning on other seats in the state. This seems to be the prime reason why Manvendra was fielded in Raje’s backyard, rather than his own political turf of Barmer-Jaisalmer in western Rajasthan.
Hopes to Instigate Rajput Anger Towards Raje
The Congress also hopes that fielding Manvendra, a prominent Thakur leader, will help to en-cash the anger of Rajputs with the Raje government over several issues.
Many experts believe a Rajput backlash could erupt strongly as the community is upset with Raje’s mishandling of the “Padmaavat” film row, the police encounter of Rajput strongman Anandpal and most recently, over her stalling Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, from becoming the state BJP president earlier this year.
The inept handling of contentious issues related to the Rajput community has been magnified as an insult to the community’s pride and Manvendra Singh is sure to play up the humiliation of Jaswant Singh as a matter of ‘Swabhiman’ or Self Respect of Rajputs to dislodge his formidable foe.
By pitching Manvendra, who has been an MP and an MLA both, and is heir to his father’s rich political legacy, the Congress hopes the buzz about Rajput anger with Raje will be kept alive, not only in Jhalarapatan but all across Rajasthan.
This brings us back to the bad blood between Raje and the Jaswant Singh clan which lends a special edge to the electoral clash in Jhalarapatan. A fortnight ago, The Quint had discussed the deep roots of this rift at length.
From Friends to Foes
Suffice to say now that the Jaswant Singh-Vasundhara Raje cold war has been full of bitterness, with charges of betrayal flying around for well over a decade now. The deep differences that turned the two friends into permanent foes could make for an enthralling political novel.
Political observers in the desert state know how the two sides have rarely lost an opportunity to embarrass each-other. Inevitably, after being declared the Congress candidate, Manvendra lost no time in attacking Raje:
“She ( Raje ) doesn’t belong to Jhalarapatan. She is a Rajasthani by marriage, not birth. In that sense, she is an outsider, though she has been here for many years. In that sense, I am more Rajasthani than she is,” he said.
Despite all the attacks and calculations, it must be remembered that Jhalawar has been Raje’s fortress for decades. She has won the Jhalarapatan seat since 2003, which is a part of the Jhalawar Lok sabha constituency, that Vasundhara won 5 times and has been held by her son Dushyant since 2004. As such, the task facing Manvendra is more than tough.
No wonder, on Manvendra being fielded against her, Raje retorted:
“The Congress could not find any candidate and he (Manvendra Singh) had to be fielded from somewhere, so they sent him here. The Congress fielded a candidate against me who they were not willing to give a ticket from his own seat.”
As the Raje-Manvendra battle lines get drawn, it’s clear that Jhalrapatan will see a high-stakes, high-voltage campaign.
A fascinating facet of the Jhalrapatan battle is that Rama Pilot, the mother of Sachin Pilot, the current Congress Chief in Rajasthan had also fought against Vasundhara Raje in 2003. If Sachin and Manvendra can now combine to trump Raje, that will be sweet revenge, indeed in more ways than one.
As the personal turns political, the Vasundhara Raje-Manvendra Singh clash promises to be a battle royale.
(This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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