On the last day of nominations for the Rajasthan Assembly polls, the BJP sprung a surprise by fielding state Cabinet Minister Yoonus Khan against state Congress chief Sachin Pilot from Tonk. Khan, who is the state minister for the Public Works Department and is considered a close aide of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, is the only Muslim candidate fielded by the BJP in the state with 200 seats.
Khan, whose name was announced in the fifth list released by the BJP on Monday, replaced incumbent MLA from Tonk, Ajeet Singh Mehta, who was earlier named as the party’s candidate from the seat. “By fielding Khan from Tonk, which has a sizeable Muslim population, the party has decided to make the contest harder for Pilot,” a senior BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.
Though Khan is considered number two in the state government after the CM, uncertainty surrounded his candidature after the BJP denied a ticket to Habibur Rahaman, the only other Muslim MLA from the party who has now joined the Congress.
Adjacent to Pilot’s former Lok Sabha constituency Ajmer, Tonk has approximately 55,000 Muslim voters, along with other communities such as Gujjars (22,000), Meenas (12,000), Jats (12,000), people from the Mali community (20,000) and people belonging to the Scheduled Castes (40,000).
In the 2013 polls, BJP’s Ajeet Singh Mehta had won the seat, securing 66,845 votes. Saud Saidi, former Tonk district president of the Youth Congress, who had contested as an Independent, came second with 36,502 votes. Former minister and three-time Congress MLA Zakiya followed with 21,342 votes.
“We are confident that Pilot will win comfortably and the BJP won’t gain any votes by fielding Yoonus Khan. Nobody in Tonk knows Khan,” Saidi, who is back in the Congress fold, said.
Congress sources claim that Zakiya, who was a minister in the previous Gehlot government and was denied a ticket to make way for Pilot, has substantial influence among Muslim voters in Tonk.
Asked if she was disappointed after being denied a ticket, Zakiya said it was natural for “ a human being” to think that way, but in the end, the party’s decision is bigger.
Pilot said he is happy that the BJP has shifted from the “Uttar Pradesh model” it adopted for the 2017 UP polls, when it did not field a single Muslim candidate. “The BJP had given the candidature to someone else, but they changed their mind. I am quite happy that my candidature from Tonk has forced the BJP to shift from the Uttar Pradesh model,” he said.
Pilot claimed that Khan was contesting from Tonk in a “half-hearted” manner after being denied a ticket from his first choice — his constituency (Deedwana).
After filing his nomination, Khan said the contest is between a “sevak” (servant) and “swami” (master). “Pilotji is the state Congress chief and is the master. He himself has chosen this seat, taking it away from the deserving candidates. I am just a sevak and worker of the BJP and have come here on my party’s instructions,” Khan said. In the fifth and final list released by the BJP, the party fielded Jeetendra Singh Jodha from Khan’s constituency Deedwana.