Can Krishna Poonia halt Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s march to a second term as MP?
The contest in the Jaipur Rural Lok Sabha seat seemed to be one-sided, and in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But that was until the Indian National Congress (INC) declared the sitting MLA from Sadulpur (Churu) and Commonwealth Games gold medalist Krishna Poonia as its candidate.
So, what was expected to be an easy win for Rathore, might just go down to how the caste arithmetic plays out in the constituency.
Formed after delimitation in 2009, this constituency elected Lalchand Kataria of the Congress as its first Member of Parliament (MP). In 2014, Rathore emerged as a youth icon and won on behalf of BJP.
Kataria later won from the Jhotwara Vidhan Sabha constituency in the 2018 Assembly elections and was included in the Ashok Gehlot cabinet as Agriculture Minister.
It is Kataria himself who is leading the election campaign of Poonia and although his influence runs through all of Jaipur Rural, it is in his own Assembly constituency that he is at his most powerful. Most people Swarajya spoke to in Jhotwara, had a negative impression of the Modi government. Kataria, who asked for proof of the air strikes in Balakot, has supporters for his questions in his constituency.
However, in another locality of Jhotwara, an old shopkeeper, Hanuman, was satisfied with the incumbent MP Rathore’s work. He also praised the Modi government but spoke of the Gehlot administration as a ‘better system’.
Yadavs for BJP in Jaipur Rural?
Lakshman Yadav of Jhotwara thinks that the country developed during Modi’s tenure and established itself on an international platform. He also likes Rathore and thinks that Krishna Poonia would find it hard to win as not many people know her. When asked about the voting choice of the Yadavs, he claimed that BJP lost in his Assembly constituency only because of Yadavs disliking Rampal Singh Shekhawat, but “this time 99 per cent of Yadav votes will go to BJP.”
Similarly, Prahlad Yadav of Phulera Assembly constituency praised the Modi government for its nationalism. Working in the dairy sector, he also claims that agriculture has benefited from the Modi government, especially wheat harvesters who were able to make profits through cooperative societies.
A young Yadav from Paota of the Kotputli Assembly constituency perceives Narendra Modi as desh ka chowkidaar. He is satisfied with Rathore and also praises Poonia for bringing honour to the nation, but is reluctant to give her a chance as their MP. Maliram Yadav, a senior of the community, expresses discontent towards Congress and says “Jab tak zinda rahenge tab tak Congress ko vote nahi denge, koi laash se angutha dabwa de, to hi ho sakta hai.” (I will not vote for Congress till I’m alive. It is only possible if someone presses the thumb of my corpse (for voting)).
Dalit Vote Consolidation Behind Congress Better Than That Of Jats
Jats form about one-fourth of the electorate in Jaipur Rural. That is why declaration of Poonia’s name as contestant was thought to be a turning point. However, on ground, the drift of Jat votes was not found to be as strong towards the Congress as the party would expect. Instead, it appeared that it was the Dalit vote that was backing the Congress completely.
A Dalit shopkeeper named Arjun from Jhotwara expressed his anger against Rathore, saying that he never came to visit them. Another Congress supporter from Khejroli, named Rajesh Saini said that Congress government was better as farmers got a better price for their crop.
Chhajuram Saini, a shopkeeper in Nathwada said that Manmohan Singh’s term was better in terms of economic reforms. “Demonetisation and GST have spoiled everything. Even the Pulwama attack was organised by Modi for political gains.” he claims.
From the same village, Shravan Meena, happy with the return of the Congress in the state, said that the Gehlot government had resumed BPL pension and MNREGA schemes while the Modi government didn’t do anything to solve the water crisis in the area.
Pramod Kumar Saini from Paota praised Manmohan Singh for his decency and criticised Modi for his ‘not so’ decent choice of words. He and his friend from the same community also criticised the construction of the Paota flyover on the Delhi-Jaipur expressway, saying it has ‘damaged’ their business. They perceive Rathore as the “culprit” of this construction.
Phoolchand Sen, patron of the Barbers’ Association in Kotputli, calls Modi a “jumlebaaz”. He doesn’t trust EVMs and wonders whether they work in favour of the BJP. When asked why he does not believe the Election Commission, he says, “Modi ne media ko khareed liya hai to kya pata yeh bhi.” (Modi has bought over the media, so who knows). Interestingly, he expresses his anger towards Modi for not building the Ram temple and his fellow shopkeeper Akbar Khan supports him, saying that that will at least solve the conflict.
On the other side, many Jats of Khejroli praise Rathore for constructing a stadium and a hospital in their area. They are also disappointed by the “false claim of a loan waiver by the Congress ”.
While Moolchand Jat of Shahpura has decided to vote for Congress and finds Modi government just a ‘drama’, Hanuman Jat has decided to vote for Modi while saying that Rathore had not done much for Shahpura. He says that whatever votes Congress gets, will only be because of Krishna Poonia.
Badri Chaudhary of Paota says that he has always voted for BJP and his choice will be no different this time. He says that Congress didn’t have fruitful schemes, and houses to poor, gas cylinders and toilets, have all been provided by the BJP government.
Rajendra Jat is a Modi voter and supporter. When asked about his estimate of which way the rest of the Jat votes will go, he says, “If Rajputs can do caste politics then Jats will not lag behind this time.” Mukesh Chaudhary of Shyam Dungri of Amber Assembly constituency claims that it is a Modi wave this time and Poonia will not be able to have an effect on Jat votes.
Clearly, Poonia’s candidature is not having an effect to the degree the Congress would have hoped for.
The Modi-Rathore Factor
In Khejroli, when this correspondent approached senior citizen Bansidhar Saini with queries, he responded with the cheer “Har har Modi, ghar ghar Modi”, adding that what Congress couldn’t do in 70 years Modi had done in just five. When interrupted by those around for his loud voice, he responded by saying, “Ye josh mujhe Modi ne diya hai.” His friends were from different communities namely, Jat, Saini, Meena, Mali and Yadav but all of them appeared to be supporting the Prime Minister.
People in Shahpura like Rathore for facilitating drinking water and roads. They said that the local pipeline was constructed around three-four years ago. A local, Manish Sharma, criticising the Gehlot government, says that toll tax has been resumed on Mega Highways and LEDs are no longer available at cheap prices. He adds that many have benefited from the Mudra Yojana and Masood Azhar has been declared an ‘international terrorist’ only because of the Modi government’s diplomacy.
RK Sharma finds Rathore very sociable, and claims that he responds instantly whenever an issue of the constituency is brought to his notice.
In Paota, some people claim that due to Rathore, jobs are being distributed without any demand for bribes. Rajneesh from Kotputli says that Rathore has built an indoor stadium, Passport Seva Kendra and started FM in the area. He also tells that after many years, youth from Jaipur Rural have been admitted in the Army. One of the textile businessmen, Maniram Sharma, in Kotputli, is happy with GST as he says it has saved them from fraud and brought peace into their lives. Some people told Swarajya that Rathore organised monthly meetings in Kotputli to hear grievances of people.
Despite these, the main reasons some other cited for their opposition to Rathore were his ‘Thakur’ attitude and favouritism for his own caste members. Many young people got jobs but the allegation is that most of them were Rajputs. Also many claimed that Rathore was not a regular visitor to their area, and even if he visited, he didn’t mix with the people well enough. There were even some of those who said that they would have voted for BJP if Rathore would not have been the candidate. A fruit vendor in Shahpura and Sher Singh from Paota among others claimed to vote for Congress (because of Rathore) but wanted to see Modi as the PM.
Congress has strong support, in fact, in Shahpura, Jhotwara and Kotputli Assembly constituencies. Many people here voiced their discontent regarding demonetisation and unemployment. A large group of people see BJP as the ‘party of riches’. Many think that the condition of farmers is better in the Congress rule. They were also impressed by the Gehlot government providing cheap medicines.
However, these Congress supporters are unsure about their choice for PM. Only two of the Congress supporters this writer talked to wanted to see Rahul Gandhi as prime minister. Some supporters were so unsure regarding their PM choice that they thought it best to leave this decision to the party. However, the startling conclusion of all interactions in Jaipur Rural with Congress supporters was that a majority of them wanted to see Ashok Gehlot as prime minister.
The main challenge for Rathore, it appears, is as much Krishna Poonia, as discontent in sections of the electorate against himself. That is bad news for Poonia, and the Congress. But talking of bad news, the party first needs to figure out how to project Rahul Gandhi as a credible choice for prime ministership.
In this literal clash of Olympians in Jaipur Rural, Rathore seems set to occupy the top spot at the podium.