By Sandipan Sharma
Jaipur: If you want to find out what is wrong with the Congress in Rajasthan, spend some time in Mandawa, nearly 200 km from Jaipur.
State Congress chief Chandrabhan is the party’s candidate in Mandawa. The talk here is not if Chandrabhan would win. Everybody is keen just to find out if the Congress stalwart would be able to save his deposit. In a quadrangular race, Chandrabhan is currently the favourite among voters and bookies to hobble home last.
Mandawa is busting every poll myth build and destroying the Congress party’s rural legend. For decades it has been a Congress bastion. The electorate is dominated by Jats and Muslims. The BJP has not won even once from here. Ergo, for Jat leader, PCC president, chief Raje basher, secularism posterboy Chandrabhan the Mandawa contest should have been a walk in the park. Or so he would have thought before the interest shifted to his pecking order among losers.
In Mandawa, Jats have deserted the Congress and Muslims are divided between two rebels and BJP candidate Salim Tanwar. The Congress votebank has gone bust. In a desperate bid to survive, Chandrabhan is asking people to read between the lines. Chandrabhan is insinuating that he, a Jat, could be the chief minister if the Congress wins. But voters say this is a stale joke.
Mandawa, in essence, explains why Ashok Gehlot is in trouble. Just like in Mandawa, almost everywhere in Rajasthan, the traditional Congress voter is deserting it.
Jats are not just upset. They have become mutinous. Muslims are either silent or putting up their own candidates. Add to this the ongoing polarization of urban votes and youth because of Narendra Modi’s influence and appeal. No wonder, even die-hard Congress fans are predicting that the party would win around 80 seats and then enlist others to form the government.
Chhaju Bhansali, 55, runs a small business in Shekhawati. In local parlance he is called a chunavi keeda, a colourful expression for election addicts. An inquisitive crowd gravitates towards Chhaju as he rattles off trends and satta rates in a busy Mandawa market. Somebody asks him how many seats the Congress will win. "Dhoondte reh jaoge," he replies tersely and dismisses the conversation.
Many chunavi keedas like Chhaju are predicting an anti-Congress wave, something that Modi is helping the BJP ride. With the poll scene becoming clear after the last date for withdrawal of names, the momentum has shifted towards the BJP and Kirori Meena’s NPP in eastern Rajasthan.
The fact that people are moving towards candidates who are best placed to beat the Congress is a clear indicator of the strong anti-incumbency mood. Out of the six major regions of Rajasthan, the Congress is perceived to be in the contest in just two—Mewar (Udaipur) and Hadauti (Kota).
Everywhere else its candidates are just completing the chorus. BJP, rebels, NPP, BSP, CPM and other small parties have pushed the Congress out.
"The Congress can still win the election," says JP Sharma, 50, of Sirsila village in Churu. "It should get TV coverage of Modi rallies banned immediately. Gaon ka chhora bawla hora hai Modi ke peeche (Rural boys are crazy for Modi),” he argues in the local dialect.
But a ban on TV wasn't the Congress’ last wish. Gehlot and his men were hoping that the BJP would flounder during ticket distribution and its rebels would help the Congress.
There were muted celebrations in the Congress camp for a few days as many powerful BJP rebels jumped into the fray. But the BJP contained the mutiny by making most of them withdraw. There are still many in the fray. But the revolt has turned into a minor protest.
Gaurishankar Mandawewala, 65, is a former chairperson of Churu municipality. At a meeting of BJP workers in Churu, he gets to speak with Vasundhara Raje, after she addresses the gathering on her cellphone. "She was laughing uproariously. I can sense she is brimming with confidence," says Mandawewala after his chat.
Raje has managed to get her act together just in time for a blitzkrieg across Rajasthan. Her election rallies, combined with the nearly two dozen meetings Modi is scheduled to address, may strengthen the fire building up against the Congress.
To his credit, Gehlot made every attempt to turn the tide. He gave more tickets to candidates from castes that form the loyal base of the party. He allowed CP Joshi, Sis Ram Ola and Bhanwar Jitendra Singh to field their supporters. He preferred many fresh faces. But with the anti-Congress mood becoming the common denominator, his arithmetic has failed.
With just a fortnight left for elections, both on paper and in the field, Gehlot’s chances of becoming the chief minister again look slimmer than those of Sachin Tendulkar reconsidering his retirement.
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Updated Date: Nov 16, 2013 18:00:31 IST