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Moochh ki ladai: Gehlot’s son in prestige fight

Gehlot’s son Vaibhav, who is making his electoral debut, is pitted against the BJP’s sitting MP and Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat

By Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in Jodhpur
  • Published 29.04.19, 7:41 AM
  • Updated 29.04.19, 7:41 AM
  • 3 mins read
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot campaigns in support of his son and Congress’s Jodhpur candidate Vaibhav Gehlot. (PTI)

In the Rajasthan desert, an epic battle is underway for the Jodhpur Lok Sabha seat.

Chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav, who is making his electoral debut, is pitted against the BJP’s sitting MP and Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. The buzz is that it’s a moochh ki ladai (prestige fight), between Gehlot Senior and PM Modi.

Both sides have invoked the Mahabharat to target their opponents. Ashok Gehlot has likened his party to the Pandavs who would vanquish the Kauravs in the battle between truth and falsehood; Shekhawat has equated Gehlot Senior to Dhritarashtra, who was blinded by love for his sons.

Brand Modi and Balakot are the dominant theme for the BJP, which is banking on the nationalist fervour. The Pakistan border is 300km from Jodhpur. Shekhawat, who had won the seat in 2014 by a margin of over 4 lakh votes, has been talking of it as “Modi’s election”.

The Congress campaign is focused on local issues, farmers’ plight and Gehlot’s popularity in what is considered his home turf. Gehlot is a five-time MP from Jodhpur. He has been going door to door for his son — “Jodhpur ka ladka,” he has been saying, reminding voters of his long association with the city.

Water scarcity is a major problem in Rajasthan. Most reservoirs, dams and hand pumps have either dried up or are rapidly losing water. The crisis deepens during the summer. Along the India-Pakistan border, villagers complain of acute water scarcity.

Conversations in Jodhpur evoked mixed responses on the Modi government’s performance in the last five years.

“He has made India proud. All the countries across the world have now realised the power of Bharat. I am voting for Modi,” said Mohan Singh, security guard at a hotel.

Sebastian, who works in the same hotel as accountant, had a diametrically opposite view.

“The poor are suffering and youths are jobless. The economy is going down and we are staring at further job losses. Where is the prosperity which Modi always brags about? Only his rich friends are happy,” said Sebastian.

Anuj, a student doing his graduation from a Jodhpur college, felt Balakot “was nothing but a political gimmick before the elections; it won’t quench our thirst, nor it will solve our financial woes.”

A group of villagers in the Rajput-dominated village of Kuri, about 12km from Jodhpur town, spoke of Modi as a “saviour” of Hindus.

“He silenced Pakistan forever after the Balakot air strikes,” said Arjun Singh, who owns 25 bighas of land. “It’s only because of Modi that Pakistan returned wing commander Abhinandan.”

The others around Arjun nodded in agreement, except Joga Ram.

“Modi ne sirf goli diya hai paanch saal mein (Modi has only bluffed in the last five years). Farmers’ distress, unemployment, demonetisation…,” he said, counting off the failures of the government on his finger tips.

Arjun praised Ashok Gehlot for carrying out development works in Jodhpur. “But this is Lok Sabha elections and Modi is the best PM India ever had,” he said, adding that he had voted for the Congress in the December Assembly elections because he was angry with Vasundhara Raje’s government.

He, however, agreed with Joga Ram that the Modi government had failed farmers. “But this can be forgotten considering the bigger cause for the country — teaching Pakistan a lesson,” he said.

In 2014, the BJP had bagged all 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan. The Congress, after winning 100 of the 200 Assembly seats in December, is a little more upbeat this time.

The biggest factor, however, remains the caste arithmetic. The BJP is banking on the support of the Rajputs, the dominant caste in Jodhpur, Brahmins and Jats. Gehlot is eyeing the OBC votes, especially the Mali community to which he belongs, as well as Muslims and SC/STs.

“It’s going to be a tough fight. Gehlot also has personal charisma in Jodhpur and can give Modi’s candidate a run for his money,” said Babbu Singh in Kuri.

At Bagraseni village, the Dalits were livid with the Modi government. “We lost our source of sustenance after demonetisation as the construction companies shut shop. We are finding it difficult to feed our children,” said Pancha Ram, a construction worker.

His friend Soma Ram said the poor are facing hardships everywhere: “Modiji is a salesman and his only ambition is to remain in power at any cost. He wears a suit worth Rs 15 lakh and farmers are committing suicide.”

He said Modi always says that nothing happened in the last 70 years. “Who built roads, schools, hospitals and provided electricity?”

The Modi government, said Pancha Ram, has built only toilets in the village. “Who will feed us?” he asked.

The high-profile seat has already seen rallies by both Modi and Shah last week.

“The battle in Jodhpur is one of prestige for both Modi and Shah; a thrilling fight is on the cards,” said a BJP leader.

Jodhpur votes today