Fight to the Fin­ish

The com­ing by­polls will test the met­tle of some of the state’s big lead­ers

India Today - - STATES - By Ro­hit Par­i­har

In Ra­jasthan, three un­timely deaths have prompted fresh polls—two for Par­lia­ment and one to the state as­sem­bly. The con­tests are cru­cial, both for the top Congress lead­ers—Sachin Pi­lot, C.P. Joshi and Ji­ten­dra Singh Bhan­war—as­so­ci­ated with the seats, but per­haps even more for chief min­is­ter Va­sund­hara Raje who has a point to prove a year be­fore she seeks a fresh man­date in De­cem­ber 2018.

The dates aren’t in as yet, but there’s huge in­ter­est in whether or not Pi­lot, the state Congress chief, will con­test from Ajmer, the seat he lost in 2014. Handed the reins of the state unit in Jan­uary 2014, Pi­lot’s de­ci­sion to con­test the Lok Sabha from Ajmer in­stead of cam­paign­ing across Ra­jasthan—months af­ter the party was re­duced to a mere 21 seats in the state as­sem­bly in De­cem­ber 2013—has of­ten been ques­tioned. Then, con­ve­niently, he was able to lay his de­feat at for­mer Congress CM Ashok Gehlot’s door. He will have no such cover this time.

The ‘ma­haraja’ of the erst­while princely state, Bhan­war, Ji­ten­dra Singh—long a part of Rahul Gandhi’s in­ner cir­cle—faces a sim­i­lar dilemma in Al­war. A by­poll de­feat will raise se­ri­ous ques­tions about his claim to his fam­ily bas­tion—a seat he had lost in 2014.

The third elec­tion, to the Man­dal­garh as­sem­bly seg­ment of Bhilwara, is a mat­ter of per­sonal pride for Joshi, a chief min­is­te­rial as­pi­rant like Pi­lot. A vic­tory in the seg­ment would raise his stature within the state Congress.

But CM Raje has the big­gest stake rid­ing on the three by­polls. Sulk­ing un­til she led the party to an un­ex­pected vic­tory in Dholpur in April, she has en­thused the BJP rank and file which is hop­ing for a re­peat of the 2014 Lok Sabha vic­tory, when it took all 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

The re­newed ex­u­ber­ance also got a push from BJP chief Amit Shah’s three-day visit in Septem­ber, fol­low­ing which the party ap­pointed Chan­dra Shekhar of the RSS as its or­gan­is­ing sec­re­tary. Adding mo­men­tum to this was Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s visit to an RSS event, to in­au­gu­rate the Pratap Gaurav Ken­dra, a me­mo­rial for Ma­ha­rana Pratap in Udaipur, on Au­gust 29. He also laid the foun­da­tion stones for many other state schemes.

Mean­while, CM Raje has her hands full in an un­ruly sea­son. Com­mu­nal vi­o­lence flared up in Prat­ap­garh on Ram­navami and Mo­har­ram; parts of the walled city in Jaipur also had to be placed un­der cur­few on Septem­ber 8, af­ter the mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity re­sorted to ar­son to protest an anti-en­croach­ment drive. And in the CM’s home con­stituency, Jha­lawar-Baran, Pi­lot has been mo­bil­is­ing farm­ers seek­ing crop loan waivers. This, af­ter the state gov­ern­ment gave in and set up a com­mit­tee to ex­am­ine the waivers an­nounced by other states fol­low­ing a shut­down by farm­ers in Sikar on Septem­ber 11-12.

Raje and her gov­ern­ment face ris­ing anti-in­cum­bency across Ra­jasthan with crum­bling gov­er­nance and the ter­ri­ble state of civic ameni­ties, in­clud­ing city roads. Pi­lot and Gehlot leave no op­por­tu­nity to fuel this sen­ti­ment at pub­lic fo­rums. In this tur­bu­lent sce­nario, the by­polls are sure to be read as por­tents of the way things are headed in Ra­jasthan.

PURUSHOTTAM DI­WAKAR

NO MORE GAS Sachin Pi­lot leads a bul­lock cart rally in Jaipur against high fuel prices

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