From a rise in crimes such as cattle theft to robbery, the average Alwar resident, is not happy with the present state government.
Despite the BJP candidate being a new face, it is Modi who will ultimately pull in the votes.
Suleiman Khan and Hasan Khan, both residents of Tijara town of Alwar district, will vote for the Congress. They always have.
Their candidate of choice is Bhanwar Jitendra Singh, a scion of the erstwhile royal family from Alwar and a Rajput by caste. The only Muslim candidate in the fray, Imran Khan of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), has failed to impress them. They call him a "vote-katua" (vote cutter) and say the Muslims have decided not to vote for "biradari" (community) as it would help the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"Imran is a non-factor. He has been propped up only to eat into the Muslim votes meant for the Congress. But Muslims of Alwar have understood this game," says Suleiman, 53.
The Khans do not offer any pressing reasons to vote for the Congress, other than them being "traditional voters" of the party. They don't cite Pehlu or Rakbar Khan either. Incidentally, they don't even know Rakbar, who was killed in police custody after allegedly being beaten up by villagers for cow theft in Ramgarh tehsil, about 50 kilometeres from Tijara. They, however, say the BJP has to be stopped.
In the same market, Vijay Kumar Saini and Ajay Kumar Yadav (both OBC) will vote for "Modi" for the second time in a row in the Lok Sabha polls slated on 6 May. Like typical Modi supporters, they cite a number of reasons, including Ayushman Bharat, Swachh Bharat, Ujjwala Yojana and construction of roads and highways. There is an added factor, however, and that is the Congress government currently being in power in Rajasthan.
"Law and order has gone for a toss. Vehicles thefts have gone up sharply. You leave your motorcycle here and after two hours, it's gone," says Yadav. "The entire non-Meo belt of Alwar is regretting bringing Congress in the state," he says, implicitly referring to Hindu voters. Congress has a reputation that it shields the criminal activities in the notorious Mewat belt that is home to its core voter base of Meo Muslims, he explains.
"Why did the voters bring in the Congress in the first place then?" I ask.
"It is believed that development takes a push whenever there is a change in state government," says Saini.
Neither Yadav or Saini knows about the so-called mob lynching cases in Ramgarh and Behror, and reply with a vague "yes we did hear something".
Conversations with hundreds of voters across Alwar thus reveal how wrong the lazy editorialising of the last two polls in the region were. Last year, Alwar saw two elections - bypoll for Alwar parliamentary constituency in January and state assembly elections in December - both of which were won by the Congress.
Congress managed a win in state polls only with a slender margin but swept the bypolls that were necessitated due to the death of BJP MP Mahant Chandnath. Euphoric political commentators who read the results as a vindication of their own ill-informed stand on the cow issue, hailed the Alwar's majority population for 'rejecting BJP's bid to polarise communities using the cow'.
Come 23 May, they would get a reality check. Barring the affected areas bordering the Mewat belt such as Naugaon and Ramgarh, the rest of Alwar does not vote on the cow issue but on caste, religion and development. Of the eight assembly segments of Tijara, Kishangarh Bas, Mundawar, Behror, Alwar Urban, Alwar Rural, Ramgarh and Rajgarh-laxmangarh, the BJP looks strong in the mostly Hindu areas of Behror, Mundawar, Kishangarh Bas and Alwar Urban.
The reason? A palpable Modi wave.
Chandnath’s disciple Balaknath is now contesting on a BJP ticket. An outsider and an unknown, Balaknath evokes no interest among the voters but is all set to sweep Hindu votes across castes as a representative of Modi.
It's the Yadavs (17 per cent), followed by scheduled castes and Muslims (12 per cent each) that decide the fate of Alwar constituency.
Yadavs seems to be firmly behind Modi, as they were in 2014. Asked about the recent bypoll - where Congress’ Karan Singh Yadav defeated BJP’s Jaswant Yadav by a significant margin - Ajay Kumar Yadav says, "Frankly, we were conned. Congress played the caste equations well."
Mainaki is an all-Yadav village in Shahabad area in Tijara tehsil. A group of farmers are chatting when this correspondent stops by. When asked, they raise hands and cheerfully chant - 'Modi, Modi'. Their individual reasons are different but enthusiasm just the same.
Mahavir Yadav says, "Modi has brought out pilot back from Pakistan. As most of our Jat, Gujjar and Ahir brothers go in the Army, Modi is our need." Suresh Yadav, another farmer, says the village has got road connectivity, and women have got toilets and cylinders.
He mentions Kisan scheme where the Centre is to pay Rs 6,000 as minimum direct income to farmers. Suresh, however, hasn't got the benefit. He blames it on current chief minister Ashok Gehlot. "Gehlot isn't letting us get this benefit. So all the more reason to bring Modi to power again," he says.
In the adjoining Maharajpura village, Hari Singh Yadav says Modi has brought India global respect. "Hamara vote desh ke swabhimaan ke naam (my vote is for India's pride)," he says.
In Jalalpur village of the same Tijara tehsil, Giriraj, a Gujjar farmer, says Modi is good for the country and the Gujjar community is with him.
In Kotkasim tehsil, Bhahm Singh, a Jat; Sanjay Verma, a Meghwal (SC); and Chandu Ram, a Yadav, are sitting on a bench. Their eyes light up at the mention of elections and all of them say they will vote for Modi.
Verma's reason is different. He feels he has been betrayed by the Gehlot government. "Raje waived off our power bill but the Gehlot government has overturned the decision," he says. Just before the state polls, chief minister Vasundhara Raje announced in October that more than 12 lakh farmers of the state will receive free electricity up to Rs 10,000 for a year on their agricultural electricity connection - an announcement criticised by Gehlot as a desperate bid to lure voters.
There is also palpable anger among farmers against the "failure" of the Congress to deliver on its farm loan waiver promise. In the four months of Congress rule, most farmers this correspondent talked to expressed their frustration at not getting the promised waiver of Rs 2 lakh on farm loans.
Kishan Kumar Yadav and Ramananad Jat of Gangapur village in Kotkasim said their hopes of the waiver are diminishing.
While the Yadavs, Brahmins, Jats, Vaishyas, Malis, Sikh-Punjabis and Gujjars and Rajputs seem to be with Modi, and the Meos firmly with Congress, it is the SC community that is divided and would play a key role in deciding the outcome.
In Harsoli village of Kotkasim, Ramsingh, a Meghwal, says he voted for Congress in state elections but will choose Modi on 6 May because of “rashtravaad” (nationalism). Ramdev Jaatav from Sorwa village is among the few who said he will vote for BSP. "Who can forget 2 April and the way our dalit brothers were killed in their house and mass FIRs filed against them? This BJP should not come or it is the end of us," he says.
In Khairtal, Sonu Kumar of Naangal Maja village, a Jaatav, too backs Imran Khan. "We have tried both Congress and the BJP. We should give BSP a chance too," he says. In Bas Kishengarh, Ramkumar Meghwal, also SC, rejects BJP for Congress. “BJP lies,” he says.
All around Alwar, a complaint one repeatedly hears is that of an alleged steep rise in vehicle and cattle theft and loot under the four months of the Congress government. Ravikant Gupta of Gheekaka village near Bibirani, shares that last month, three thieves entered his shop around 11 am and, brandishing pistols, took way Rs 9.15 lakh in cash from him. "It never happened under BJP. Criminals are having a free run now," he said.
In Daika village of Bibirani, Veer Singh, a farmer, says thieves entered his house last month with a pick-up and took away his cow. "I have identified the thieves and told the police, but they refuse to do anything," he says in anger. "It never happened under the BJP government. This is the work of the Meos. All this is happening now under Congress.”
The areas particularly affected seem to be Ramgarh, Naugaon and Gobindgarh - all bordering Mewat belt. Fazar Khan of Piproli village and Rahees Khan of Moti Baas village in Ramgarh tehsil both say thefts have increased, particularly of cattle. However, being traditional voters of the Congress, they say they will vote for Bhanwar.
Asked about the lynching cases in the tehsil and their impact on his vote, Rahees says if a cattle thief is caught in his village, residents would give him the same treatment - thrash him before handing him to the police. However, he says that Hindutva elements vent out their hatred on the thieves just because of their religious identity and that is the reason why he fears BJP.
“I will also thrash the thief. But I will thrash him lightly, just enough to teach him a lesson. But in Hindu areas, they tie the thieves and mercilessly beat them. BJP gives them patronage,” he says.
Ishaq Khan of Alawara village in Ramgarh, who lost all his buffaloes to thieves last month, too said thefts have increased under the current government. However, he said he would vote for the Congress and BJP is not an option. Asked about Imran of BSP, he again called him a "vote katua".
Hindu voters of Ramgarh seem to be an angry lot. Several villagers have been jailed here on murder charges in recent years after they caught cow thieves and thrashed them up. They were jailed under the Raje-led BJP government but say that Congress has proved to be much worse. “Now pickup vans carrying cattle move freely and without a care all night. No villagers stops them anymore and the police have been told not to touch them,” says Gaurav Soni, a BJP yuva morcha worker from Ramgarh.
Ramgarh, a rural seat, comprises 38 per cent Muslims and 16.4 per cent SC voters. In state polls, Congress’ Shafia Zubair defeated BJP’s Sukhwant Singh by about 16,000 votes while BSP’s Jagat Singh was a distant third.
“Sukhwant would have been better but somehow voters didn’t choose him,” laments Soni. “We have no love lost for either Raje or our earlier MLA Gyandev Ahuja, who would say a lot of things but would do little. We trust only Modi,” says Soni.