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Rajasthan polls: In BJP stronghold, Jaswant Singh’s son invokes family legacy to fuel Congress bid | Political Pulse News

Just ahead of the December 2018 Rajasthan Assembly elections, former BJP MLA Manvendra Singh, the son of party stalwart and ex-Union minister late Jaswant Singh, quit the party, protesting its alleged bid to “insult” his father.

Manvedra joined the Congress, which pitted him in the ensuing election against the then BJP chief minister Vasundhara Raje from her bastion of Jhalrapatan in Jhalawar district instead of his Sheo seat in Barmer district, his family stronghold.

Jaswant was one of the BJP’s founding members but was sidelined during Raje’s chief ministerial tenure. In the 2018 election, Raje trounced Manvendra with a huge margin.

This time, for the November 25 Assembly election, the Congress has fielded Manvedra from the Siwana constituency, which was earlier a part of Barmer and now included in the newly-formed Balotra district.

Manvendra, who was hoping for a ticket from Jaisalmer, will take on the BJP’s sitting two-term MLA Hameer Singh Bhayal from Siwana, which the Congress had last won in 1998.

Festive offer

Addressing rallies during his campaign, Manvendra, 59, has been highlighting that he is the Congress candidate from Siwana because of Rahul Gandhi and that he would abide by the latter’s decisions.

Although Siwana is barely 40 kms away from Jasol, his family’s ancestral village, Manvendra faces a tough electoral battle against Bhayal who, like him, also belongs to the Rajput community, which accounts for about 35,000 of total 2.7 lakh voters in the constituency.

“Last time I was sent to Jhalawar, that was not Rahul Gandhi ji’s decision. He didn’t even want that I contest the election. But Ashok ji (Gehlot) and the late Ahmed bhai (Patel) asked me… I was born into a family whose three generations have been in the army, I also served in the army. If a soldier is asked to go for operation in a place, and if he refuses then it is his and his family’s insult,” Manvendra tells the gatherings at his rallies.

“I accepted their (Congress leadership’s) decision and went to Jhalawar. I got the love of party workers in Jhalawar too, which is on the Madhya Pradesh border while I am from the Pakistan border, 800 kms away,” he says.

Manvendra is banking on his family’s legacy to woo the electors. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Jaswant had contested from Barmer-Jaisalmer as an Independent candidate – and ended up as the runner up, polling more votes than the Congress candidate – after the BJP denied him the ticket.

Jaswant had been one of the tallest politicians from the Barmer- Jaisalmer region in western Rajasthan, who had held important positions at the national level, including the ministerial portfolios of external affairs, defence and finance. He passed away in 2020.

Manvendra, who had been a BJP MP from Barmer-Jaisalmer during 2004-09, had also contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election from the constituency on the Congress’s ticket but lost to the BJP’s Kailash Choudhary, the current Union Minister of Sate for Agriculture.

“I am your neighbour. That road goes right to Jasol. You all know our family and I know the issues in this area. It is my promise that we will improve the drinking water system. If I can improve the drinking water system in the desert area of Sheo, I can improve it here as well. I am convinced after seeing the love here that on November 25 your voice will reach Jaipur and Delhi,” Manvendra tells locals during his canvassing.

On the other hand, the BJP seems to be buoyed by Siwana’s track record as a constituency where the Congress has always struggled, primarily due to the seat’s influential Rajput community which has traditionally supported the BJP.

However, with Manvendra’s entry into the Siwana fray, the Congress is hoping to get a significant chunk of the Rajput vote.

In his campaign speeches, Bhayal has been citing the achievements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging the voters to ensure a “double engine” government in Rajasthan.

“In 2014, the public gave the reins of the country to such a personality whose name is Narendra Modi. The world has seen today that there is no one to take takkar (square off ) with him, Pakistan, China… when we started giving them befitting replies. He (Modi) is such a personality who doesn’t have anyone in his family. When his mother passed away, he finished the last rites in three and a half hours and came back to work for the nation’s welfare. What can be bigger than this?” says Bhayal.

The Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) account for 50,000 and 25,000 voters, respectively, in Siwana.

Many local Congress leaders say the party has made a “good decision” by not replacing the sitting Congress MLA in Jaisalmer, Rooparam Meghwal, a Dalit leader, with Manvendra.

“The Congress is winning Siwana because the SC community will overwhelmingly vote for the party. By not denying the ticket to Ruparam Meghwal in Jaisalmer, a positive message has been sent to SC voters (in the region) by the Congress, who will now vote for Manvendra Singh in Siwana,” claims Omaram Meghwal, the state Congress general secretary and former Siwana block party chief.

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