With less than a year left for the Rajasthan Assembly polls, the by-election in the Sardarshahar Assembly constituency is crucial for both the Congress and the BJP, which will look to set a template for the 2023 election and gain some momentum. But the entry of the Hanuman Beniwal-led Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) may end up overturning the poll arithmetic in the seat in Churu district.
Sardarshahar, where voting will take place on Monday, became vacant after the death of its seven-time MLA Bhanwar Lal Sharma of the Congress who represented the seat for more than 30 years, starting in 1985. The Congress has fielded his son Anil for the bypoll, hoping that public sympathy — a factor that benefitted the party in previous by-elections — will once again turn the tide in its favour.
The BJP candidate is former MLA Ashok Kumar Pincha, who is contesting for the sixth time from Sardarshahar. The fact that Pincha won the constituency only once in all these years is being reiterated by the Congress at public meetings to claim that the result is a foregone conclusion.
“Why did they field poor Pincha? Couldn’t they find any other scapegoat? They know he lost four times and he won’t win but despite that, he has been fielded. You know where Anil Sharma stands and where Pincha does,” Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said last month at a rally on the day Sharma filed his nomination.
Gehlot also cited the various welfare schemes and development projects of his government and heaped praise on the late Bhanwar Lal Sharma. The CM promised that any development work requested by his son would be a top priority.
Gehlot’s speech was a reminder of how quickly things can shift in politics. Back in 2020, when Rajasthan was engulfed in a political crisis following then deputy CM Sachin Pilot’s rebellion against Gehlot, the CM’s camp had accused the late Sharma of trying to topple the state government. Bhanwar Lal Sharma was one of the 18 MLAs who sided with Pilot.
The Congress’s confidence has also been bolstered by its bypoll record. Since the 2018 elections, Assembly bypolls have been held in Mandawa, Khinwsar, Sujangarh, Sahara, Rajsamand, Vallabhnagar, and Dhariyawad. Of these seven seats, the Congress won five. The victories in Sujangarh, Sahara, and Vallabhnagar were fuelled by public sympathy for the party after it fielded family members of legislators whose deaths had necessitated the by-elections.
But the BJP insists that previous bypolls won’t matter in Sardarshahar. “The government was busy with infighting and no development work took place. The public will give a befitting reply. Earlier (when I lost), the public couldn’t understand but now they do. Congress candidate Anil Sharma is saying that he will complete his father’s unfinished work. But the public of Sardarshahar has given 35 years to him (to Bhanwarlal Sharma), so they are accepting that they haven’t done anything,” Pincha, who is from the trading community, told reporters.
The Opposition party has held massive rallies with top leaders such as state president Satish Poonia, Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore and the party’s Rajasthan in-charge Arun Singh. Rathore, who is a seven-time MLA from Churu and is known to hold significant influence in the region has been camping in the area to garner support for Pincha.
“We are confident of winning the seat. The party felt that it will be right to field Ashok Pincha ji. In previous by-elections, when MLAs passed away due to Covid, it resulted in public sympathy for their families. Both the Congress and the BJP got it. We fielded one such candidate and she won from Rajsamand. The Congress generally selected only such candidates. All the issues against the government will result in us winning the election,” Poonia told reporters.
The RLP factor
Meanwhile, the RLP has fielded Lalchand Moond who is the chairperson of the Churu district dairy federation.
Moond is from the Jat community among which the Beniwal-led party enjoys sizable support. There are more than 50,000 Jat voters in the constituency. The RLP will look to garner most of the community’s votes, given that the Congress and BJP candidates are not Jats. In an encouraging sign for the party, Beniwal has been drawing large crowds while campaigning for Moond.
Of the 2.89 lakh voters in Sardarshahar, Brahmins, Jats, and Scheduled Caste (SC) communities form a large chunk, with more than 50,000 voters each. The late MLA Sharma was a Brahmin and spent his political career in the Janata Dal, the BJP, and the Congress.