Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmer Welfare and sitting BJP MP from Jodhpur Gajendra Singh Shekhawat never forgets to point out in his campaign speeches that the ongoing Lok Sabha election is the ‘Kaliyug’s Mahabharata’.
“Much like the Mahabharata, the two sides are standing against each other here as well. One is that of the Pandavas, who stand with the blessings of Lord Krishna and walk the road of truth. The second side is that of Dhritarashtra, blinded with putramoha (love for son) and walking on the path of adharma,” says Shekhawat, while addressing a rally at Jodhpur’s ward number 58.
The battle for the Jodhpur parliamentary seat is a high stake one. Shekhawat, a Rajput, who is often regarded as the future of the BJP in Rajasthan, faces Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s son and Congress candidate Vaibhav Gehlot, a Mali, an OBC community.
The Jodhpur constituency, which has nearly 5 lakh OBC and 2.5 lakh Rajput voters among others, has eight Assembly segments.
While the Congress is relying on its victory in six of the eight seats in the constituency in the December 2018 polls, the BJP is hoping that PM Narendra Modi’s name and Shekhawat’s popularity will help it sail through.
Jodhpur is known to be a bastion of Ashok Gehlot, the current and three-time CM of Rajasthan. He had been elected to Parliament for five terms from the seat between 1980 and 1998.
“I am thankful that the party selected me as the candidate from Jodhpur. The high command took this decision as I had the blessings of all Congress workers, senior leaders and the youth. I pledge to be your voice at Jaipur and Delhi,” Vaibhav says at a rally in Shergarh.
He then points out the work done by the Congress government in the state during its first three months in office. He speaks of the farm loan waiver, increase in pension and other welfare schemes while adding that the Central government under PM Modi had failed to deliver on its promises.
Although Ashok Gehlot held the Jodhpur Lok Sabha seat for most of the 1980s and 90s, ever since he became the CM of Rajasthan for the first time in 1998, the Congress has managed to win it only once, in 2009. The BJP won the seat in 1999, 2004 and 2014. In the last general elections, Shekhawat wrested the seat from the Congress, defeating then incumbent MP Chandresh Kumari by a margin of more than four lakh votes.
Since then, his stature in the party has only grown, with the defining moment coming in 2018 when he was considered for the post of the state unit president by the BJP’s central leadership after the party lost two parliamentary seats and one Assembly to the Congress in bypolls held in 2018.
At this juncture, a loss against Vaibhav will be a setback for Shekhawat as after the Vasundhara Raje government’s defeat in the Assembly polls, he has been playing a crucial role in matters related to the party’s state unit.
As for the Congress, sources say that the party is banking on CM Gehlot’s charisma and appeal among the people of Jodhpur.
“People support Ashokji due to his down-to-earth demeanour and his ability to connect with them on a personal level. His son Vaibhav will definitely benefit from this,” says Sayeed Ansari, district Congress president of Jodhpur.
In his rallies, Vaibhav is already raising issues such as why Jodhpur wasn’t selected a smart city in spite of the fact that it is the second largest city in Rajasthan and has a BJP MP for the last five years. He further points out that the state and the Centre both had BJP governments.
According to a BJP leader, the saffron party is focusing on two issues in its campaign in Jodhpur — that PM Modi needs to be re-elected in the interest of the country and how CM Gehlot’s top priority is the interest of his son.