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Rajasthan Congress veterans flee arena, leave newbies on poll frontline

Published:

Congress

’s strategy to field veterans to boost the party’s chances in the

Lok Sabha

elections appears to be coming a cropper in Rajasthan. While seniors like Digvijaya Singh and Bhupesh Baghel have entered the fray in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, respectively, heavyweights in Rajasthan appear unwilling to enter the battleground.
Ignoring clamour from grassroots, former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, his then deputy Sachin Pilot, and former Union ministers Jitendra Singh and CP Joshi, have managed to stay off the nomination list, leaving Congress with no option but to place its bets on relatively lesser-known faces, and even debutants.

On Gehlot’s home turf of Jodhpur, for instance, Congress has fielded the lightweight Karan Singh Uchiyarda, despite party cadre maintaining that the former CM can pose a tougher challenge to BJP’s Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Gehlot would have had an edge in the Jodhpur battle as he has been consistently targeting the Union minister over corruption issues in the last two years. Gehlot’s son Vaibhav, who was defeated by Shekhawat in the 2019 general elections from Jodhpur, has also moved to the neighbouring Jalore-Sirohi seat, leaving, what insiders say, a near-empty playing field for the BJP leader.
Sachin Pilot’s areas of influence in the Gurjar belts of Dausa and Tonk Sawai Madhopur face a similar impasse. Rajasthan’s former deputy chief minister and incumbent legislator in the state assembly, Pilot has resisted contesting from either constituency though he is believed to be capable of delivering results for the grand old party. Instead, in Dausa, Congress has fielded Murari Lal Meena, a former minister, and in Tonk-Sawai Madhopur, former Rajasthan DGP and sitting MLA from Deoli-Uniara Harish Chandra Meena.

Alwar royal Bhanwar Jitendra Singh too has exited the battlefield, forcing Congress to field Lalit Yadav, the party’s sitting MLA from Mundawar, against Union minister Bhupender Yadav, who is contesting his first Lok Sabha elections.
Former Union minister CP Joshi is the lone exception to the “veterans- won’t-contest” rule as he entered the poll fray from Bhilwara in a last-minute shuffle. The party’s initial pick for Bhilwara retired RPS officer Damodar Gurjar was moved to the neighbouring Rajsamand Lok Sabha seat after the original pick Sudarshan Rawat withdrew from the race.

Sources said that Congress seniors have resisted contesting on the grounds that they have larger organisational responsibilities within and outside the state, and their work would be affected if they were to focus on one seat.
At Congress’s central election committee for Rajasthan in New Delhi last month, where both Gehlot and Pilot were special invitees, the former CM was conspicuous by his absence. Sources said that despite his absence, the committee discussed the need for his candidature but ended only fielding his son Vaibhav — as insisted on by Gehlot — from Jalore instead of Jodhpur.
Pilot, on the other hand, appears to have bowed out of the electoral race on account of his responsibilities as general secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh. Sources said he has assured the Congress leadership that instead of contesting polls himself, he will channel his energies towards consolidating the party’s position in four seats in east Rajasthan, besides improving the tally in Chhattisgarh.
If the absence of seniors was not enough, Congress has also had embarrassment heaped at its feet on account of fielding newbies without adequate background checks. In Jaipur, Congress was compelled to drop Sunil Sharma after internal protests erupted over his association with ‘The Jaipur Dialogues’, a rightwing platform that routinely engaged in ‘Gandhi-bashing’.
Rawat’s Rajsamand candidature announcement too became a cause of distress for the party as he withdrew the nomination saying that he had already conveyed his inability to contest the polls only a few months after he faced defeat in the 2023 assembly polls. To add insult to injury, in a public statement, Rawat said his name was announced “without his consent” and may be due to some “confusion”.
Unable to find strong candidates, Congress has also been liberal in accommodating INDIA Bloc partners that the party had kept at a distance during last year’s assembly polls. While central Rajasthan’s Nagaur seat has been given to Hanuman Beniwal’s RLP, notwithstanding resistance from local leaders, the Sikar seat, from where Rajasthan Congress president Govind Singh Dotasra hails, has been handed over to CPM’s Amra Ram, as a part of the seat-sharing arrangement. In Banswara-Dungarpur also, Congress has entered into an alliance with the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP).

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