Around the Indira Gandhi statue at the central roundabout in the township of Tonk, Yoonus Khan supporters are present in dominant numbers. Few meters ahead of that statue, his supporters have put up two offices — one by Kashyap Keer Samaj, a marginalised caste and right in front of it on other side of it by a Muslim group. In fact, a small eatery has been converted into a part-time support office.
Khan's supporters on either side of the road are not interacting much, but they are proudly showing the other side to impress visitors that Khan has support of both the communities.
Apart from being the only Muslim in the entire list of 200 candidates fielded from the ruling BJP in Rajasthan, Khan has the honor of being one of most prominent ministers in the Vasundhara Raje government. He also has the pride of being specially sent by the BJP leadership, state and central, to take on state Congress chief and one of the two chief ministerial contenders from that party, Sachin Pilot.
Khan is a popular leader within his community and outside and has his credentials as minister of public work and transport and the developmental work he did in his present constituency Deedwana to boast. But the task he was assigned, to be a giant killer, surprised all.
Though Sachin has been an MP before and a Union minister in the Manmohan Singh government, and also has the political backing of supporters of his late father Rajesh Pilot, he has not fought an Assembly election before. However, the fact that he is chief ministerial contender from the Congress has given him an instant head start.
Khan began slowly but has picked up momentum giving Sachin some scary moments. What brought Sachin here was simple arithmetic — Gujjars are present in Tonk in large numbers and so are Muslims and if voters in these two communities combine along with fraction of voters from here and there, Sachin is safely home. Khan’s candidacy has added a twist in the tale.
The key question is will Muslims betray Congress, even if a substantive chunk, say around 30 percent of the near 60,000 Muslim voters, switch side and vote for Khan, then it might prove to be a difficult scenario for Sachin.
A group of young Muslims at that office (mentioned above) were assertive in expressing their support for Khan. “See this banner, we are all here to support Yunus sahib. He had a hugely successful rally here at this spot yesterday. He will win.”
Just as I moved, a slightly elderly person, came towards me and said in hushed tone, “They are all sold out. They will take money and not vote for Khan or the BJP. This is all an eyewash. Take my word Sachin will win.”
Up ahead some men are sitting and having tea. They talk at length, indicating that this time Tonk has a real fight on the cards. One of them says, “This is Tonk and it is money which speaks here (with slight disgust in his tone."
On being asked who has money, Khan or Sachin — one is a serving minister in the state government and other is former union minister currently in-charge of a party as state president with the power assign resources, men, money and material through the state — he says Khan has greater appetite to spend money. On being asked if anyone was a Muslim in their group, he said that all of them are Muslims. The man identified himself as Aslam Khan.
Another person in the group, Muhamad Salim got candid in his opinion. He said, “Khan is a nice man. He is easily approachable and he has a point to make — the work he did as a minister and the work he did in his constituency (Deedwana). I may like to vote for him, but see the problem is that he is a BJP candidate. Since my childhood I have known nothing else than the hand as an election symbol. My family and relatives have only voted for the hand."
Yet another person in the group was getting restive. Before leaving, he made his final comment. “The situation is quite fluid here. I have not seem an election like this. Too much is at stake — one is a would be chief minister and another is the number two in the present government. Who knows what kind of history, Tonk is going to write. Whose fate it is going to make or mar. We have satisfaction of being a party when history will be written here on 11 December when votes will be counted.”
A Shiv Sena candidate Baju Saini who had fought last time as an Independent candidate and had got good numbers too has a role to play as well in the Assembly election.
He is from the Mali community, a community to which, another chief ministerial contender from Congress, Ashok Gehlot belongs. There is a great deal of confusion and talk in Tonk as to which way his are supporters are going, and whether or not Saini is still actively rooting for himself. The BJP supporters believe that Saini has capitulated and his community has decided to vote for Khan but Pilot’s supporters are not buying this argument.
One thing is clear though, the four-lane highway from Tonk to Jaipur is straight and a high speed one, literally and politically.
Updated Date: Dec 02, 2018 19:20:36 IST