JODHPUR: The majestic Umaid Bhawan Palace stands in stark contrast to the objective it basically fulfilled— to provide employment to thousands during a period of famine. It’s the soul of Jodhpur. Right outside its gates is the Circuit House Circle, agog with political activity.
Vaibhav Gehlot, the Chief Minister's son is up and about as he prepares to take on the sitting MP Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Chandresh Kumari of the Congress was beaten by Shekhawat in 2014 and he became the Union Minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet. Chandresh is from Jodhpur' s royal family. She is the sister of Maharaja Gaj Singh and married in Himachal Pradesh.
"It's not easy to win here. There is a lot of respect for the Royal family and she is the daughter of Jodhpur," said a local
CM Gehlot knows it and that’s why he conducted seven rallies in eight hours across six Assembly segments of Jodhpur last Saturday.
Jodhpur — 300 km from Jaipur — is the heart of Marwar region comprising Jalore, Sirohi, Pali, Jodhpur, Barmer and Jaisalmer LS constituencies. Congress, which has done well in the Assembly and won the LS seat eight times in the past to the BJP’s four, believes it has a fair chance this time.
A walk through the Jalori Gate and into the bustling narrow lanes leads one to Nav Chowkiya Chowk. Ashok Gehlot took an auto to traverse the lanes to address a meeting at the chowk. His father belonged to a family of magicians till he won the first election 38 years back and stayed the course.
There is pro-BJP sloganeering as he appeals for votes for Vaibhav. He magnanimously acknowledges it and moves on. “The party has given a ticket to Vaibhav. You may consider him your son, your brother or your grandchild but I have put him in your care,” he said.
At the Jalori Gate, Sudhir Bhati, a worker from Sardarpura said, “We voted for Ashok Gehlot five months ago. Now, we will vote for Modiji. He has taught Pakistan a lesson.” However, Ajay Parmar in Soorsagar sounded miffed. “Because of their animosity with Ashok Gehlot, BJP did not allow Jodhpur the smart city tag.”
The pungent smell of spice-laced food attracts one to Pokar Sweets. Owner Om Prakash said, “It’s a close contest. Gehlot has done a lot of work but Modi has made a strong impression on people’s minds”. Post-surgical strikes, BJP has pinned its campaign on nationalism and security. Arun Bohra, who said that he voted for the Congress last time, said he will vote for Modi. “This election is for the country and there is nobody better than Narendra Modi,” he said.
But not all are happy. Jodhpur Handicraft Association president Nirmal Bhandari said, “In the last five years our MP Gajendra Singh hasn’t done anything for the handicraft industry. The industry employs over three lakh people. Sheesham is an agricultural product but he did not represent it in the WTO so it got banned. Now, to export it we have to obtain licences every time, which costs Rs 6,000”.
According to him, handicraft businessmen have benefitted through the implementation of GST. “Gehlot’s work speaks and Modi’s name is a big factor. Whoever wins, it will just by a difference of 20,000 votes,” he said.
Once you tread into the rural environs, the Modi factor eases out. At Pokhran, the site of the Indian nuclear tests, Narayan Das looks away from his cards, and said, “BJP hasn’t heard our pleas to bring railways closer.” A retired soldier, Sharvan Singh is happy.
“We benefited from One Rank One Pension scheme. When I retired I had a pension of Rs 2,500. Now, its Rs 29,000.”
Umar Khan, a taxi driver, however, was adamant. “Narendra Modi has done a lot but we will vote for the Congress. We might die of hunger but it’s Congress,” he said.
Shergarh Assembly segment of Jodhpur is famous as the ‘soldier’s cradle’ for most Army men from Rajasthan hail from the area.
“In 1996, Jaswant Singh promised us a Kendriya Vidyalaya. Where’s it?” said Bagh Singh, an ex-army man.
“RSS is fully mobilized to canvass for Gajendra Singh. Caste too will play a key role. Jat and Vishnoi communities always play a decisive role. Whoever gets their votes will win Jodhpur,” said Lalit Parihar a local journalist.
Marwar is known as the heartland of the Thar and also a politically significant region along the borders with Pakistan.
The dominant castes were for once stilled during the Modi wave, which swept all before it in 2014 but this time, it seems different.
A much more confident Congress is working on the back of its Assembly victory to match the BJP for which nationalism and national security are the rallying cries.