About twenty minutes before the arrival of Manvendra Singh, Congress candidate against CM Vasundhara Raje in Jhalrapatan, his wife Chitra Singh reaches an intersection near Jhalawar bus station Monday afternoon and climbs atop the makeshift stage. She tells the audience, “You have elected Vasundhara Raje thrice, consecutively, and I haven’t seen any development here. Don’t you want change? Aren’t you concerned about your children’s future? Congress is going to win in Rajasthan and you should contribute the most by uprooting those who have misruled for years.”
Another speaker assures the audience that Manvendra will be made a minister once he wins against Raje, hoping to allay concerns about “preferences” residents of Jhalrapatan get as it is the CM’s constituency since 2003; also, Raje’s son Dushyant Singh is MP from Jhalawar-Baran Lok Sabha seat, under which Jhalrapatan Assembly segment falls.
Manvendra’s aide Durjan Singh then says, “People say he is a parachute (candidate)…But let me tell you, he is an Armyman and a professional paratrooper. Manvendra ji has jumped from airplanes 15 times.”
In the run-up to the elections, Congress president Rahul Gandhi promised that there will be no “parachute” candidates. Manvendra quit BJP on September 22 and joined Congress on October 17; so there was some opposition within the party when he and some others who joined the party recently got tickets.
Eventually, Manvendra arrives, seeks support and thanks local residents for coming to hear him. Back in the SUV, he says, “I have jumped out of airplanes enough times to be qualified as one (a paratrooper).”
Asked how he felt about being the candidate against the CM, he said he is still “surprised” at how things turned out in a short span. “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said.
The issues in Jhalrapatan, he said, are farmers and villages, adding that he had expected better cleanliness in the CM’s constituency.
Within Congress, some see getting Manvendra into the party as a calculated move to appease Rajputs. On the other hand, the decision to field him in an uphill battle is being seen as a signal to Jats that the party is fielding him from an expendable seat and making him move out of Jodhpur region, thus reducing Rajputs’ influence there. BJP, however, is not perturbed, said Dushyant. He said Manvendra has been fielded by Congress in a tough fight against Raje because former CM Ashok Gehlot wants to avenge his loss to Manvendra’s father, former BJP leader Jaswant Singh, in 1989 Lok Sabha polls.