Pokhran set for close fight in Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha polls; BJP pits Pratap Puri against Congress' Shale Mohammad
Pratap Puri and Mohammad's father Gazi Fakir both hold considerable sway among their communities, making the Pokhran constituency in Jaisalmer district one of the state's most hotly contested seats.
Jaipur: Western Rajasthan's Pokhran assembly constituency is set for a close fight on 7 December between a Hindu religious leader fielded by the BJP and son of Muslim 'peer' pitted against him by the Congress.
The BJP candidate, Pratap Puri, is the head of the Taratara 'math'. The Congress' Shale Mohammad is the son of Muslim religious leader Gazi Fakir, who has a large number of followers both within India and across the border in Pakistan.
Both Puri and Fakir hold considerable sway among their communities, making the Pokhran constituency in Jaisalmer district one of the state's most hotly contested seats.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister and senior BJP leader Yogi Adityanath and Congress President Rahul Gandhi will address rallies in support of Puri and Mohammad, respectively, on Monday, setting the tone for the rest of the campaign in the region better known for the nuclear tests in 1998.
Puri expressed confidence that the BJP will win the Pokhran seat and blamed the Congress for making the contest "communal" by fielding a Muslim candidate against him.
Protection of Hindus and cows has always been an important issue, he said. "Hindutva is in my veins and the party is going to win the election which has been made communal by the Congress by fielding a Muslim candidate against me," the BJP candidate told PTI.
Religious leaders should be in politics for its purification, Puri, who hails from the influential Rajput community, said. "The people are with the BJP because they have faith in the party's policies and in leaders like Narendra Modi," he said.
His Barmer-based 'math', which holds considerable influence in the entire Jodhpur division, is pulling out all stops to win over the electorate, conducting social and religious activities. "We hold drug de-addiction camps, provide education to poor children and work for cow conservation, besides conducting several other social activities," Puri said.
The Congress candidate, Mohammad, said his focus was core issues like drinking water and other basic amenities for people in Pokhran, which has a total electorate of 1.94 lakh. "People here face difficulties in getting drinking water and fodder for cattle. The constituency lacks healthcare facilities and I am focusing on that," he said.
Mohammad had lost the 2013 assembly elections from the same seat to BJP's Shaitan Singh with a margin of 34,444 votes.
Mohammad's father, an octogenarian, boasts of a strong following in the Sindhi Muslim community and has several criminal cases against him.
There are an estimated 55,000 Muslim voters, 45,000-48,000 and Rajput voters in Pokhran. It also has around 35,000 Dalit voters, according to the candidates. Pokhran is one of the two assembly constituencies of the desert district of Jaisalmer.
The second constituency, Jaisalmer, will also see a direct contest between BJP candidate Sang Singh Bhati and Congress' Roopa Ram.
The BJP chose Sang Singh Bhati over its sitting MLA Chotu Singh Bhati, while the Congress has fielded Ram for the second time after 2013. A total of 11 and 18 candidates are in the fray in Pokhran and Jaisalmer respectively.
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