Jaipur, April 28 (IANS) Caught between the cacophony of nationalism and regional vision -- on issues of farm distress, unemployment, water crisis and poor connectivity -- the voters in Rajasthan seem to be dwindling towards the former.
"It's Modi versus all (issues and candidates) in Rajasthan. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi has made his image larger than life. And in the post-Pulwama political scenario, Rajasthan seems highly taken in by the Indian Air Force (IAF) strikes in Balakot in Pakistan," says political analyst Narayan Bareth.
"This is because many families in the state have their sons in the armed forces guarding the borders, and they seem to be the most impressed by the Prime Minister's tough stance on national security. Nothing except nationalism seems to be influencing them at this point.
"The state's ruling Congress looks confused as to how to fight this debate between nationalism and regional vision. It may get around 5-7 seats, while the BJP can win 18-20 seats," adds Bareth.
For decades, the Rajasthan Assembly has been alternating between the Congress and the BJP every five years. Following the same trend, the Congress dethroned the BJP in 2018.
The state is also known to give the party winning the Assembly elections the most number of Lok Sabha seats. Banking on this trend, the Congress is hoping to take its tally up from zero in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, even as the BJP attempts to repeat its success of winning all the 25 parliamentary seats in the state.
As both parties claim to achieve "Mission 25" in 2019, IANS takes an overview of the key issues and seats in the state:
Of the 25 Lok Sabha constituencies in Rajasthan, 13 will vote in the fourth phase on Monday while the remaining 12 will go to the polls in the fifth phase on May 6. At present, the BJP represents all the 25 seats. The total number of electorate in the state stands at 4.84 crore.
Out of the 200 Assembly constituencies in the state, the Congress had won 100 in the 2018 state elections. The BJP had won 73, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) six, Independents 13 while the remaining eight seats went to the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (3), Communist Party of India-Marxist (2), Bharatiya Tribal Party (2) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (1).
Farm distress: The desert state, which once reeled under long spells of drought, now makes news for flash floods every now and then. The changing weather pattern has wrecked havoc on farming.
The Congress had promised farm loan waiver of Rs 2 lakh within 10 days of coming to power in the state. While Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot kept the promise, the BJP alleges that the farmers are yet receive the 'no objection certificate' (NOC) for the closure of their loan accounts.
Says Shambhu Singh from Shahpura, "We voted out our two-time BJP MLA because the Congress had promised farm loan waiver. But four months on, there is still no clarity on how and when our loans will be waived."
Unemployment: Keeping its Assembly poll promise, the Gehlot government from March 1 introduced an allowance of Rs 3,000 per month to educated unemployed boys and Rs 3,500 per month to girls as monthly unemployment allowance. However, the youth are yet to get the allowance as the model code of conduct came into force on March 10.
Says Abhimanyu, a university student: "We all expected to benefit from this allowance, but there are many riders in the scheme. One needs to be a resident of Rajasthan and a graduate from a university in the state with a family income of up to Rs 2 lakh to avail the allowance. Hence the promise looks fake."
Caste: Caste is the biggest factor at play in Rajasthan where the equations between communities like Rajputs and Jats and Meenas and Gujjars have been exploited to the hilt to garner votes. The BJP has been trying newer forms of social engineering to gain support from the Gujjars and the Jats.
This time the saffron party has allied with the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) convenor Hanuman Beniwal, who is contesting as an NDA candidate from Nagaur. The BJP agreed to leave the seat for him expecting Jat votes in Barmer, Nagaur, Jodhpur, Pali and parts of Sikar.
However, Beniwal's prospects may be dented by the loyalists of former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje -- with whom he has had differences in the past -- to benefit Congress' Jyoti Mirdha, says Bareth.
Jodhpur: The state's most crucial seat will witness tough fight between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's son Vaibhav Gehlot and Union Minister of State and sitting MP Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
Bareth calls it a "direct fight between Modi and Gehlot". While the Chief Minister has pushed the entire state machinery, including many Cabinet Ministers, into campaigning for his son, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held a rally for Shekhawat. BJP President Amit Shah also held a roadshow in support of his party candidate.
L.S. Rathore, former Chancellor of Jai Narayan Vyas University, says: "Vaibhav Gehlot has fewer chances of benefiting from his father's political might, while Shekhawat looks far more mature."
Jay Singh, a local resident, says: "Although there are issues of water and employment in the rural areas, people here want Modi to become the Prime Minister again and are banking on his appeal."
Barmer: Bordering Pakistan, the Barmer town is faced with severe water crisis and rising unemployment. However, nationalism seems to overshadowing all such issues.
Veteran BJP leader Jaswant Singh's son Manvendra Singh is contesting from Barmer on a Congress ticket against BJP's Kailash Chaudhary. Manvendra Singh, who claims to be fighting for the lost honour of his father who was denied a ticket by the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, may get the votes of the Rajput community.
Rajsamand: The Mewar town has Jaipur princess Diya Kumari in the fray on a BJP ticket against Congress candidate Devakinandan Gujjar. Though the locals earlier protested Diya Kumari's candidature, calling her an "outsider", she is likely to get the benefit of her Rajput tag over her opponent.
Shekhawati: Shekhawati comprising Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Churu and Bikaner has a large number of families with sons in the armed forces -- the reason why the BJP is hoping its "nationalism" chorus to reap rich dividends here. The area's farmers, awaiting loan waivers, are already unhappy with the Congress.
Alwar and Bharatpur: The region, now infamous for a series of lynchings over alleged cow smuggling, is witnessing an interesting fight in Alwar between Congress candidate Jitendra Bhanwar Singh and BJP's Baba Balaknath.
Dhundhar: Dhundhar comprising Jaipur, Ajmer, Tonk, Sawai Madhopur, Dausa and Karauli towns may bring the Congress some good news. The clash in Jaipur (Rural) between two former Olympians -- BJP leader and Union Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore and Congress MLA Krishna Poonia -- is being keenly watched.
Mewar: Mewar comprises Udaipur, Bhilwara, Rajsamand, Dungarpur-Banswara and Chittorgarh districts and it is said that "whoever wins Mewar, takes Rajasthan". However, new entrant Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) may eat into the Congress' long-existing tribal vote bank here, after it won two seats in the Assembly elections.
Marwar: The border region comprising Barmer, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jalor, Pali and Nagaur seems particularly taken up by the BJP's slogan of "nationalism".
Hadoti: Hadoti comprising Kota-Bundi, Jhalawar-Patan and Baran has been a BJP stronghold for years. But the region is also in the grip of severe farm distress. The Gehlot government made a dent here in the Assembly elections with its loan waiver promise.