If the Congress manages to win the by-polls to two Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan, it should consider sending a thank you note to Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In the likely event of a Congress victory in Ajmer and Alwar, Bhansali's film Padmaavat would have played an important role.
Voting for the two Lok Sabha seats and Mandalgarh assembly constituency started on Monday in the backdrop of just one issue: How the two parties handle the caste arithmetic in Rajasthan. And this is where Padmaavat has become crucial.
In Ajmer, where the victory margin is likely to be within a lakh votes, the Ravana Rajputs have become cricket's equivalent of gamechangers. Their vote may ultimately be decisive in a constituency where both the parties are banking on traditional supporters who are almost equal in strength.
The BJP candidate in Ajmer is Ramswaroop Lamba, son of former minister Sanwarlal Jat whose death after prolonged illness led to the by-poll. His candidature has united the Ajmer Jats, the largest chunk of voters. With them are Rawats-Sindhis and traders of the constituency.
The BJP's coalition of Jats-Sindhis and traders has been effectively neutralised by the Congress support among Brahmins (Raghu Sharma, the party's candidate is from this community), Gurjars (because of Sachin Pilot), Muslims and Dalits. The onus of breaking the deadlock, thus, is with the Rajputs of Ajmer. Their 1.5 lakh votes would be decisive in a battle where both the parties are assured of polling five lakh votes each.
The BJP's problem is that though Rajputs have traditionally supported it in elections, this year two issues have forced a rethink within the community. The first was the alleged encounter of gangster Anand Pal Singh by police in June 2017. Singh's death had enraged the Rajputs of the state who considered him a Robinhood figure taking on the Jat mafia. But, the BJP government failed to assuage the community.
To this anger has now been added the disappointment among Rajputs with the Vasundhara Raje government because of its inability to get Padmavaat banned. Though theatres across Rajasthan have refused to screen the film, the Rajputs feel let down by the BJP because the film was not only cleared by the Censor Board but also allowed to run in many BJP-ruled states.
The fear within the BJP now is that the Rajputs will vote against its candidates to show they are not tethered to the saffron brigade and their loyalty can't be taken for granted. The Rajputs have also realised they have the decisive vote in the deadlocked Ajmer election. So, they may take political advantage of their position of strength.
The BJP's hopes in Ajmer now rest on the turnout. Its strategists are hoping that Rajputs, like Patidars in Gujarat, may ultimately decide to stay home instead of voting for the Congress. If this happens, the BJP feels, its Jat voters, who are expected to vote in large numbers out of sympathy for Lamba, would win the election for the party.
The BJP is not sanguine about its chances in Alwar, the other Lok Sabha seat where by-polls were held after the death of the incumbent BJP MP. Here the caste arithmetic is skewed in favour of Congress candidate Karan Singh Yadav. The Meos and Yadavs of Alwar are expected to vote for the Congress, making the fight difficult for the BJP's Jaswant Yadav.
The BJP's central leadership, incidentally, has stayed away from the by-polls even when the results could set the tone for the assembly elections later this year. Campaigning has been left entirely to chief minister Raje. Not one leader from Delhi has visited any of the constituencies. This may be indicative of the Centre's strategy to hold Raje accountable for the result.
The CM, on her part, has focussed more on Ajmer and Mandalgarh, where the BJP seems to be in the race. In Alwar, it has left its candidate to fight his own battle. Incidentally, the buzz now is even the BJP candidate, a minister in the Raje government, is not keen on winning Alwar because of fears of losing the ministry and becoming just another MP in the large Delhi ocean.
On counting day, the Congress is likely to start with a 1-0 lead. If it turns into 2-0, credit it two events: Anand Pal's encounter and Padmavaat's release.
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Updated Date: Jan 29, 2018 23:16:06 IST