BJP flags fly atop one-storey houses in a small village at Rajasthan’s Tonk district, while loudspeakers play Rajasthani songs urging people to vote for the party. A procession follows a decorated horse trotting past mustard fields with its rider — cabinet minister Yoonus Khan, the BJP’s lone Muslim candidate for the Assembly elections.
“Mai aapse puchna chahta hu, ki aap me se kisi ke pas hawaijahaz hai kya? Aapke pas helicopter hai kya? Jab aapke pas hawaijahaz nahi, helicopter nahi, to aapko pilot chahiye ya sevak chaiye? (Does anybody here own planes or helicopters? If not, then do you want a pilot, or a sevak?)” asked Khan, addressing a public meeting at Arniaymal village.
Khan, pitted against Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot, was given the ticket by the BJP on November 19, the last day of filing nomination, in the place of Ajit Singh Mehta, sitting MLA from Tonk.
Earlier, after the BJP denied a ticket to Nagaur MLA Habibur Rahaman, one of the party’s two Muslim legislators, who eventually joined the Congress, it was being speculated that the BJP had adopted in Rajasthan a strategy similar to the one in the 2017 UP election where it didn’t field any Muslim candidate. Pilot has said he was happy that because of his candidature, the BJP changed the ‘Uttar Pradesh Model’ of politics.
PWD minister Khan, considered a close aide of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and often regarded as number two in the incumbent government, accepted that the party changed its strategy in his case. “The strategy has definitely been changed, but for only one seat in Rajasthan. I am such a face who draws both Hindu and Muslim votes. They needed a strong candidate against Pilot, who is under the illusion that he is a mass leader,” said Khan.
Sources in the BJP said that by fielding a Muslim candidate in Tonk — a constituency that has nearly 55,000 voters from the minority community — the BJP wanted to give tough competition to Pilot, who is contesting the Assembly elections for the first time.
Khan accepted that he is an outsider in Tonk, while adding that Pilot is too. Subodh Sharma, a BJP worker assisting Khan in the campaign, said the party has deployed its entire district machinery to connect with people in the most remote of villages.
Along with Muslims, Khan and the BJP hope to secure votes of communities such as Meenas and Sainis. Tonk also has a large population of Gurjars, the community from which Pilot belongs and which is expected to vote for the Congress.
In his meetings and rallies, Khan is saying that he is fighting elections on an agenda of development and after winning, he will ensure that the government gifts its people a special package by declaring it a “most backward district”. “Long before I came to Tonk, roads constructed by me reached you and made your life easy. In this contest, both of us are outsiders, the only difference is that I have come with the hisaab of my work,” said Khan.