Jaipur: With two assembly constituencies in Rajasthan set for by-elections next month, the stakes are high for the ruling Congress party after it lost all the 25 Lok Sabha seats to the NDA in the 2019 general elections, within months of coming to power in the state.
In the 2018 assembly elections, the Congress lost both the constituencies for which bypolls are going to be held. The seats became vacant after the MLAs – Hanuman Beniwal from Khinvsar (Nagaur) and Narendra Kumar from Mandawa (Jhunjhunu) – were elected to the Lok Sabha.
The voting is scheduled for October 21 and the results will be declared on October 24.
While the BJP has allied with the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLTP) in Khinvsar seat, it has fielded a former Congress leader in Mandawa. The Congress, on the other hand, has once again put faith in old faces to try and wrest the seats.
RLTP’s chief and Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal, who won the Nagaur MP constituency as part of an alliance with the BJP, has declared that his brother Narayan Beniwal would contest the Khinvsar seat. The BJP has extended its support.
Hanuman Beniwal had contested as an independent from Khinvsar in the 2013 assembly elections and emerged victorious, with a massive lead over the Congress and BJP candidates. In October last year, he launched the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party to contest all the assembly elections in Rajasthan. He emerged victorious again from Khinvsar and was later elected to the Nagaur parliamentary seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Hanuman Beniwal during a rally in Jaipur. Photo: PTI
Khinvsar has been dominated by Jat politics and both the Congress and the BJP have relied on candidates from the caste.
The Congress has this time fielded Harendra Mirdha, who hails from the affluencial Mirdha Jat family from Nagaur. Mirdha served as a cabinet minister in a previous Congress government. His father Ram Niwas Mirdha was a senior Congress leader from Nagaur. He also served as a cabinet minister in the 1970s and as the speaker of the Rajasthan legislative assembly.
Mirdha was an MLA from the Mundwa constituency in 1980. Because the Khinvsar constituency was formed from the Mundwa constituency after a delimitation exercise, the party believes Mirdha could sway the Jat votes.
In the run-up to the 2019 general elections, Harendra Mirdha wanted to contest from Nagaur and opposed Jyoti Mirdha’s candidature. Jyoti lost to Hanuman Beniwal by a significant margin.
The Congress’s chances of winning the Khinvsar constituency are bleak, considering the BJP’s alliance with Beniwal’s RLTP and Ashok Gehlot’s strained relationship with the Jat community.
On the Mandawa seat in Jhunjhunu, in an unprecedented move, the BJP has fielded a former Congress leader from the region. The candidate, Sushila Seegda, was expelled from the Congress after the 2018 polls over her alleged anti-party activities.
Since then, she has been vocal in her support to the BJP. Seegda joined the BJP a couple of hours before she was announced as the BJP candidate from Mandawa on Sunday.
Seegda is currently a pradhan at the Jhunjhunu Panchayat Samiti and is well-acquainted with the grass-root politics of the area.
On the other hand, the Congress has fielded Rita Chaudhary who has contested the elections from this seat thrice but could win only once, in 2008. In the 2013 elections, she contested as an independent and was the runner up. In the last assembly elections, she lost to BJP’s Narendra Kumar by a margin of 2,346 votes.
Mandawa has traditionally been a Congress seat. Rita’s father Ram Narayan Chaudhary, a senior Congress leader, won the seat many times. Rita has taken forward her father’s legacy and is considered to be the only option left with the Congress party from the constituency.
Sushila Seegda and Rita Chaudhary. Photo: Facebook Illustration: The Wire
A litmus test
Sources say the by-elections will be seen as a litmus test for the party’s state leadership. Deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot has time and again argued that the Congress performed well in the by-elections and subsequently assembly elections until he was the party’s only face in the state. After Ashok Gehlot was made the chief minister, the party was routed in the Lok Sabha polls and even Gehlot’s son could not win from Jodhpur.