From a former UPA Union Minister to an ex-Congress Governor and from four sitting BJP ministers to former state BJP leaders, the top echelons of both national parties scrambled to shift focus to rebel candidates across Rajasthan Wednesday as campaigning for the December 7 Assembly polls closed.
Disgruntled leaders from both parties are contesting as Independents in more than a third of the 200 seats across Rajasthan and the Congress and BJP want to leave little to chance. While both parties sought to play down the effect rebels may have on the outcome, the Congress has expelled 35 party leaders for filing nominations against official candidates and the BJP 11.
Rebel candidates, around 34 for the Congress and almost 30 for the BJP, have turned Rajasthan, according to a senior Congress leader, from a bipolar state to an almost three-party contest. “The rebels will not win but they have to be factored in along with parties like the BSP. It means there is this third force that is not affiliated to anyone,” the leader said.
BJP Cabinet minister Hem Singh Bhadana in the Thanagazi constituency in Alwar pulls no punches. “When I was asked to contest here, the BJP always came in fourth place. I won two elections in 2008 and 2013. And as a reward, they cut my ticket without even asking workers. The official BJP candidate lost an election in the Modi wave in 2013,” he said at a public gathering.
Soon after Bhadana announced he would contest as an Independent, three more ministers denied BJP tickets followed suit — Surendra Goyal, Raj Kumar Rinwa and Dhan Singh Rawat. According to a senior BJP leader, tickets were denied to counter anti-incumbency. “This was expected, but some ministers are powerful local leaders. They will not win but will certainly eat into the BJP’s vote share,” the leader said.
The BJP has also had to contend with two parties that former party leaders have floated in the state — Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) contesting in more than 50 seats and former minister Ghanshyam Tiwari’s Bharat Vahini Party which has candidates in 63 constituencies.
Asked about rebels in the BJP, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said: “We have controlled our rebels, the party will win. If there is a problem of rebels anywhere, it is with the Congress party.”
About 100 km to the west of Thanagazi in Khandela in Sikar, the huge crowd assembled outside the house of Mahadeo Singh Khandela doesn’t quite give away the fact that the 75-year-old is contesting as an Independent. Denied a Congress ticket, he promptly announced he would contest as an Independent.
Wrapping up his campaign Wednesday, Khandela said at a small public meeting: “These days, both the Congress and BJP are not talking about each other but are busy criticising me. They are saying that I have grown old. I want to say that, yes, I have grown old but you have voted for me until now, vote for me just once more.”
Close by is the Shahpura constituency, where Alok Beniwal, son of senior Congress leader and former Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal, is contesting as an Independent. “We are confident of winning the contest here as nobody knows the Congress candidate. We are all Congressmen from Shahpura who have resigned after Beniwal didn’t get a ticket,” said Murlidhar Palsaniya, a former Congress block president from Shahpura.
According to Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot, rebels would have little effect on the polls. “There are a few disgruntled Congress leaders contesting but they will have no effect. For the Congress it does not matter. Rebels who were in the government will hurt the BJP more,” he said.
Incidentally, while the Congress emerged the single-largest party in the 2008 state elections, it fell just short of the halfway mark. In the end, six BSP MLAs and three Independents — many of them rebel Congress leaders — were coaxed into the joining the party to form the government.