Supporters of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje listen during a by-election campaign in Ajmer, Rajasthan, India. (Photo by STR/NurPhoto)
Supporters of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje listen during a by-election campaign in Ajmer, Rajasthan, India. (Photo by STR/NurPhoto)

The leader and cadres of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the North Indian state of Rajasthan are disgruntled by the party’s choice of candidates for the upcoming state assembly polls; the opposition Congress is taking advantage of this by fielding as candidates former BJP leaders who have left the party.

Rajasthan, India’s largest state, will go to the polls on December 7. The BJP, which currently holds power in the state, released its second list of election candidates on November 14. In Marwar region, which accounts for 33 of the 200 constituencies, candidates have been finalized for all but one constituency, Sumerpur.

The situation on the ground in Marwar among the BJP workers, however, is not very conducive to nominated candidates registering easy wins. While many are unhappy either with the denial of tickets to candidates they backed, some are far from content with candidates presented in their constituencies.

The Marwar region plays a crucial role in the state assembly. As many as three former chief ministers, including Congress national general secretary Ashok Gehlot, come from this region. Traditionally a Congress stronghold, the region has favored the BJP over the last two terms, and that makes the contest in Marwar all the more significant for the two national parties. In the last assembly polls, the BJP bagged 30 seats in Marwar region while Congress was limited to only three.

Advantage for opposition

The opposition Congress party has been quick to cash in on the BJP’s internal turmoil. Several BJP leaders who quit the party after being denied seats to contest have turned up in the Congress party’s first list of 152 candidates, released late Thursday night.

Not giving a ticket to leaders like Surendra Goyal, who enjoy the backing of a strong cadre base, may cost the saffron party dear in Marwar. Goyal, the sitting Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Jaitaran, was also the public health engineering and groundwater minister in the Vasundhara Raje government. He resigned from his post and the party on 12 November, a day after the BJP fielded Avinash Gehlot from the constituency instead of the five-time MLA. The buzz in Jaitaran is that the BJP wanted to appease the Mali community.

Goyal has now threatened to beat the BJP in Jaitaran by contesting the seat as an independent. Apart from Goyal, six other sitting MLAs in Marwar — Jivaram Beenmal, Chotu Singh, Tarun Kaga, Amitra Meghwal, Sanjana Agri, Shaitan Singh — have been denied tickets, fanning rebellion from their supporters against the party.

“Certain BJP and RSS leaders were scared that I might become the chief minister because of my nature and popularity. Hence, my ticket was canceled due to pressure from the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s parent organization). This is why I have resigned from my position as the minister and have left (the) BJP,” Goyal said.

Sitting MLA from Nagaur, Habibur Rahman, also failed to get a ticket from the BJP and defected to Congress, which sent him out to re-contest his current seat.

“I was with Congress during the period when Ashok Gehlot was the chief minister. (Re-joining) the party without any conditions feels like ghar wapsi [coming back home]. I was denied a BJP ticket due to certain party norms that I am not aware of,” Rahman told mediapersons on Wednesday.

Cong fields BJP’s left-outs

Among the 162 candidates finalized by the saffron party so far, 43 sitting MLAs have been left out, which led to protests by their supporters on Thursday in front of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s house.

At the disputed seat of Sumerpur, the drawn-out discord with BJP leader Om Prakash Mathur is jeopardizing sitting MLA Madan Rathore’s chance to once again fight for the seat. While Raje wanted to grant Rathore a ticket, Mathur, who is part of the committee which decides on tickets for candidates, blocked him. During the 2008 election, Rathore was also left out on Mathur’s suggestion to field Shankar Singh Rajpurohit, who had lost the seat to Bina Kak of Congress by about 9,000 votes.

While former journalist Ghanshyam Vyas, who is known to be close to Baba Ramdev, is pressing the party to finalize Rathore’s selection, Mathur is pushing for the current leader of the Sumerpur Municipal Council, Jora Ram Kumavat, to be given the ticket.

Another prominent face, Manvendra Singh, son of former cabinet minister Jaswant Singh Jasol, moved to Congress and will be representing the party from Shiv AC. The BJP has taken a chance by fielding a new face against him, Khuman Singh.

Other constituencies in Marwar where the BJP has fielded new faces are Chauhatan and Pokhran. Adhuram Meghwal has been nominated from Chauhatan and from Pokhran, Pratap Puri has been chosen. While Raje wanted Jodhpur MP Gajendra Singh Shekhawat to contest the seat, he himself was not interested.

Dr Priyanka Choudhary, chairperson of the Urban Improvement Trust, Jodhpur, who was expecting a ticket from Barmer AC, resigned from her post after Member of Parliament (MP) from Barmer LS constituency Colonel Sonaram Choudhary was given the AC ticket. Dr Priyanka had lost the last assembly elections from Barmer to Mewaram Jain of the Congress. BJP workers in Barmer are also disappointed with the selection. A rebellion from Choudhary could hurt the chances of the BJP in Barmer since she is also the granddaughter of late BJP leader Gangaram Choudhary.

BJP is also facing a blow in Jalore after sitting MLA Amrita Meghwal was denied a ticket. In Sanchore, the saffron party workers are also upset with the nomination of Danaram Choudhary, a young candidate, instead of former MLA Jeevaram Choudhary.

Handling rebels

Rising discontent among old-timers in the party has propelled the BJP to form a core committee to handle the rebels. According to sources, as a ‘damage control’ measure, the party is promising important positions, like chairpersons in government organizations, to dejected leaders after it wins. A separate team is focused on controlling the repercussions emerging after Congress’ list of candidates was released.

According to the convener of the BJP’s election management committee in Rajasthan, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, tickets have been given based on performances which have been judged through several surveys and discussions. “People are unhappy after being denied the ticket but there is no situation of insurgency. It is not possible to give tickets to everyone. However, it has been decided that the party will form a team which will handle this situation and will focus on damage control wherever there is a possibility of loss,” Shekhawat said.