The maxim that MPs who perform usually get re-elected seems to be under threat this extraordinary election.
Else, Sachin Pilot would have no worries about retaining Ajmer.
A random survey in this pilgrimage centre for Hindus and Muslims alike made it clear that the young Congress parliamentarian had indeed worked for his constituency.
Even his opponents admit that Pilot has in five years delivered what his predecessor, the BJP’s Rasa Singh Rawat, couldn’t in more than two decades. The irony is that they still intend to vote him out.
The reason is the so-called Narendra Modi wave that is threatening to override all other factors in this and many other constituencies.
If Pilot can pull off a win, it will be thanks to the much sneered at “identity politics”. Only the caste factor seems strong enough to offset the Modi factor.
Pilot’s hopes rest on his Gujjar clan as well as the Muslims and Dalits. On the other side are arrayed the upper castes, the Jat community, traders and this constituency’s large population of Sindhis. The Rajput votes look divided.
The Jats’ overriding objective seems to be to make Modi the next Prime Minister. The Dalits and Muslims are subdued but throw hints about supporting the Congress candidate by stressing the importance of good work.
When, at Ajmer’s biggest market, social worker Nemichand Jain complained that Pilot was arrogant and hardly ever met the local people, Chunnilal Baria, a Dalit, couldn’t help cutting in.
“Mile ya na mile, kam to karta hai (Whether he meets us or not, he at least works for us),” he said politely.
Another Dalit voter, who didn’t want to be identified, alleged that BJP candidate Sanwar Lal Jat had breached the Bisalpur pipeline to steal water for his farmhouse. But what Arun Balani, a Sindhi businessman, said was an eye-opener.
“Local issues should not be raised in the big election. I know that traffic jams are a huge problem in Ajmer, but it is foolish to talk about them during a Lok Sabha election,” Balani said. “We want Modi as Prime Minister because Pakistan has to be taught a lesson. China has to be contained too.”
Balani laughed at those who value moderation in a leader. “Be it (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee or Modi, Muslims will not vote for us. He (Modi) did a good thing by tightening the screws on Muslims in Gujarat.”
Asked whether businessmen didn’t require peace, he said: “If Modi comes, there won’t be any riot. Muslims won’t dare. We will have total peace.”
Balani admitted, however, that Muslims in Ajmer had “never created problems”. His explanation: the khadims (priests) of Ajmer Sharif too need peace in the interests of religious tourism.
That tourism, though, is sustained by millions of devotees from all religions: many Hindus who come to Pushkar to worship Brahma make it a point to visit the Ajmer Sharif dargah too.
India’s pluralism can perhaps boast of no greater symbol than the shrine to Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, standing in the city of Prithviraj Chauhan, the last Hindu king to rule Delhi before Muhammad of Ghori’s conquest of India.
While Pilot’s posters highlight his achievements, such as the central university and the railway link between Ajmer and Pushkar, the BJP campaign is centred on the slogan “Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar (This time, a Modi government).”
Pilot, who claims to have made Ajmer the first slum-free city in India, realises that he needs a lower-caste consolidation to survive. Photographs of Haryana Dalit leader Kumari Selja adorn the Congress hoardings along with those of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Ajmer has three lakh Dalit voters.
But the going will still be tough for the MP, who also happens to be the state Congress chief.
The Jats are angry with the Congress everywhere and the Sindhis have been supporting the BJP here because the local MLA comes from their community. And then, there’s the Balani logic.
“We apologise for not supporting Pilot despite his excellent work,” Balani, the businessman, said.
“But small sacrifices are legitimately made for big causes. We need Modi as Prime Minister this time — it does not matter who the MP is.”
If Pilot survives the test, it will be thanks to those rungs of society that need his development agenda to make a difference to their lives, and not those who have the luxury of worrying about China’s rise.
Ajmer votes on April 17