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The Hindu
The Hindu
Mohammed Iqbal

Jat stronghold of Nagaur witnesses close contest in Rajasthan

Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) supremo Hanuman Beniwal’s first-ever alliance with Congress and his subsequent candidature from the Opposition INDIA bloc, has rendered the Lok Sabha contest in the Jat stronghold of Nagaur into a fight between old rivals.

Mr. Beniwal is pitted against Bharatiya Janata Party’s Jyoti Mirdha, whom he had defeated in 2019 when she fought as a Congress candidate.

Also Read | Voters in Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region bat for stronger Opposition

In a role reversal, Ms. Mirdha, 51, whose clan has produced Congress stalwarts such as Ram Niwas Mirdha and Nathu Ram Mirdha in the past, is highlighting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s guarantees in her election campaign. Ms. Mirdha, a former MP, joined the BJP in September 2023 in a setback to the Congress.

Appealing to the Jats

Both the Jat leaders are trying to sway the community’s opinion in their favour during whirlwind tours of dusty villages in the constituency. Mr. Beniwal, who had formed the RLP in 2018 after his suspension from the BJP, is aggressively campaigning among the Jat youth with the promise of generating employment opportunities for them. Jats comprise 18.75% of the voter population in the seat.

Issues such as opposition to the Agnipath military recruitment scheme, protests by wrestlers against BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and farmers’ demands for minimum support price (MSP) and crop insurance have made an adverse impact and harmed the BJP’s reputation within the Jat community in the region.

Battle of supremacy

The Lok Sabha election has also come as an opportunity for both Mr. Beniwal and Ms. Mirdha to gain supremacy as Jat leaders in the political landscape of Rajasthan and get acceptance with a high stature at the national level. This ambition has apparently led to personal barbs against each other in the speeches of both the candidates on the hustings.

Interestingly, Ms. Mirdha’s grandfather Mr. Nathu Ram Mirdha in Nagaur was the only Congress candidate who had won in the 1977 Lok Sabha election in the State, held after the Emergency was lifted. All the Opposition parties had joined to form the Janata Party, which won a sweeping majority in the Parliament.

Despite the alliance having been formed across three Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan — the two others with CPI(M) in Sikar and Bharat Adivasi Party in Banswara — there are several leaders in Congress who continue to have reservations about the pact with the RLP. Mr. Beniwal had fielded candidates against Congress in the 2023 State Assembly election and targeted the party on a number of issues.

Mr. Beniwal told The Hindu during his campaign at Didwana tehsil’s Manda Basni village that he had decided to join the INDIA bloc after the “massive corruption” in the shape of electoral bonds came to light. “I earlier left the NDA because of the BJP’s anti-farmer policies. The Congress and RLP are on the same page when it comes to people’s grievances, agrarian crisis and increasing unemployment,” he said.

Community leaders in a huddle

Amid the fast-changing political equations in the constituency, the Jat community leaders are said to be holding closed-door meetings to take a decision on giving political support. If the Jat vote splits this time, the voting pattern of the sizeable Muslim community and the Scheduled Castes is likely to emerge as the deciding factor.

Ms. Mirdha’s defection to the BJP has not gone down well among significant sections of voters. Nand Kishore, a tea shop owner at Didwana bus stand, said politicians who switch their party affiliation end up “ditching the people” whom they claimed to serve. Devendra Singh, a security guard outside a shop, lamented that the voters had limited choices if they wanted to support candidates with principles.

However, Ms. Mirdha has affirmed during electioneering that the Congress has “conceded defeat” by forming the alliance in the State. Refuting the charge that she was out of touch with day-to-day struggles in Nagaur, Ms. Mirdha said she had toured all the village panchayats as an MP and allotted funds for development. “There is no depth in the Opposition’s alliance. The candidates being fielded [by them] in Rajasthan are devoid of ideology and commitment,” she said.

In the politicians’ battle of prestige, the issues of Makrana’s marble industry, Didwana’s salt lake, illegal mining, scarcity of irrigation water, erratic agricultural power supply, lower crop yields and reduced incomes for farmers seem to have taken a back seat. The voters in Nagaur have a faint expectation that their representative in the Parliament would help resolve some of the issues and make their lives easier.

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