Congress vulnerable in Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region

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By Our Correspondent

JAIPUR – Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president Govind Singh Dotasra is in a vulnerable position on his home turf in the Shekhawati region for the November 25 Assembly election, following the raids conducted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on his premises in Jaipur and Sikar. The Shekhawati region, comprising Sikar, Churu and Jhunjhunu districts, was once considered a bastion of the Left parties.

Though the region in northern Rajasthan is witnessing a close fight between the ruling Congress and the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, there is a widespread expectation that the fortunes of Communist Party of India (Marxist) will be revived this time. The CPI(M) candidates in the region had lost in the 2018 election. On the other hand, Dotasra – a three-time MLA from Lachhmangarh – is facing some tough questions from the electorate.

The ED conducted raids at Dotasra’s houses as part of its probe into money laundering in the Rajasthan Public Service Commission’s (RPSC) recruitment exam paper leak case. The ED’s summons to his two sons, one of whom is associated with the thriving coaching industry in Sikar, have also been perceived as the BJP’s strategy to target him. Dotasra is locked in a close fight with BJP leader and former Union Minister Subhash Maharia, whom he had defeated with a margin of 10,723 votes in the 2013 Assembly polls.

Maharia knows where to hit during the ongoing controversy over the exam paper leaks. “This is a major scam. Let an explanation come from our dear friend Dotasra,” Maharia said at an election meeting in Khuri Bari village of Lachhmangarh constituency recently, as the audience clapped.

Congress leader Govind Singh Dotasra.

With the odds heavily loaded against Dotasra despite the Congress government’s claim of having extended the benefits of welfare schemes to the people, Maharia said the paper leaks would prove to be the nemesis for the Congress. “Dotasra has been misleading the people with his false claims. We will not compromise on the dignity and self-respect of voters at this seat. No development has taken place here during the last five years,” he said.

However, Dotasra claimed at a rally held in Lachhmangarh after he filed his nomination papers that he had carried out Rs.1,800 crore worth of development works in the constituency and built the roads of such a length that Maharia could travel on them for six months without finishing his journey. “I rule the heart of the people in this land of farmers and soldiers,” he said, dismissing the charges of the BJP.

The Pradesh Congress chief also said that the ED had resorted to action because he had been speaking against the BJP and its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The BJP was using the Central investigating agencies as its weapons instead of contesting the polls on the real issues affecting the public at large, he said.

As no BJP candidate was elected in any of the eight constituencies in Sikar district in 2018, this year’s Assembly election is going to be a battle of survival for Maharia. Both Dotasra and Maharia belong to the dominant Jat community of the Shekhawati region. A farmer who attended Maharia’s election meeting affirmed that even the traditional Congress supporters would have reservations unless Dotasra convinced them.

CPI(M) leader Amra Ram.

Elsewhere in Sikar district, the issues of water scarcity, poor quality of roads, inadequate power supply to agricultural farms and organised crimes in the towns dominate the public discourse. The contest at several seats has become triangular with the candidates of CPI(M), Rashtriya Loktantrik Party and Haryana’s Jannayak Janata Party entering the fray.

Among the eight seats in the district, Dhod is reserved for Scheduled Castes, with a strong presence of the CPI(M) cadre. Khandela was the only seat where the Congress was defeated in 2018, but the winner was Congress politician Mahadeo Singh Khandela, who had contested as an independent candidate.

The CPI(M) has been active in the region for several years and its agitations in Sikar and adjoining districts earlier used to be centered mostly on the farmers’ issues. The focus has since shifted to the urban matters, such as poor roads and infrastructure, gang wars, pollution and law and order situation. The BJP’s emergence in the region has also gradually reduced the appeal of Leftist ideology among the masses.

Four-time CPI(M) MLA and firebrand farmer leader Amra Ram, who has led a number of agitations, is contesting once again from Danta Ramgarh, where Virendra Singh of Congress had won with a thin margin of 920 votes in 2018. Ram earlier represented the Dhod Assembly constituency three times, between 1993 and 2003, and won from Danta Ramgarh in 2008.

The CPI(M) has fielded a total of 17 candidates in the state for this year’s Assembly election. Four of them, including Ram, are contesting in Sikar district and three in the nearby Churu district. As the BJP could not win any of the eight seats in Sikar in the previous election, the CPI(M) party workers expect that the trend would continue and the Left party would get a bigger vote share this time.

The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) – the peasants front of CPI(M) – was instrumental in bringing all the farmers’ groups of the country under a single umbrella for the 13-month-long agitation in 2020-21. Ram said at an election meeting in Danta Ramgarh that the similar strength was visible when the agitations for water, land rights and farm loan waiver were taken up in Shekhawati.

Ram, who is also the AIKS vice-president, said the common people in the region had become aware of the larger context in which the CPI(M) was fighting for their rights. “The influence of Leftist ideology is not limited to the farming belt of Shekhwati, Bikaner and Sriganganagar. Though the people support us, we have not met with electoral success because we are unable to compete with the cash rich Congress and BJP,” he said.

The CPI(M) had won two seats – Bikaner’s Dungargarh and Hanumangarh’s Bhadra – in 2018, while two of its candidates stood second in Sikar’s Dhod and Sriganganagar’s Raisinghnagar. Ram, the CPI(M) State Secretary, affirmed that the party would send the highest number of candidates to the Assembly this year.

A 10-day-long Kisan Padaav (stay of farmers) and highway strike in several towns of northern Rajasthan in 2017, led by the AIKS, over the issue of minimum support prices for farm produce had left an impact on the then ruling BJP and drawn support from Congress. As Ram said the CPI(M) was in a position to organise protests on the same scale should the need arise, the voters in the region feel that the Left party is going to perform better in the polls.

The CPI(M) leader affirmed that his party was the only political entity which had stoutly fought against the rise of Hindutva in the country’s politics. “The Congress is following a policy of soft Hindutva in Rajasthan. Its approach in the murder cases of Udaipur’s Kanhaiya Lal and Mewat’s Nasir and Junaid was discriminatory. Muslims, Dalits and tribals vote for Congress because they have no alternative,” Ram said.

Political analyst Ashfaq Kayamkhani told India Tomorrow that the CPI(M)’s prospects in the election would depend on the approach of voters, who could be influenced by the Congress’s publicity campaign on its welfare policies or consider giving a “wider space” to other secular parties. Haryana’s Jannayak Janata Party (JJN) was also trying for a foothold by fielding 25 candidates, five of whom were in Sikar district, he said.

JJP national president Ajay Singh Chautala was elected an MLA twice in Rajasthan – from Danta Ramgarh in 1990 and Nohar in 1993 – while party patriarch, the Late Chaudhary Devi Lal, had won from the Sikar parliamentary seat in 1989. Kayamkhani said the JJP’s strategy could be aimed at preparing the ground for fielding its secretary general Digvijay Chautala for the 2024 Lok Sabha election in Sikar.

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