With the battle for supremacy for the Jodhpur Lok Sabha constituency becoming a prestige issue for Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who has put all his might to ensure victory of his son, rival BJP is crying foul saying government machinery is being “misused”.
Gehlot’s son Vaibhav is making his debut from the seat, which his father has represented five times since 1980, and is pitted against Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Around 20 lakh voters of Jodhpur will decide their fate on April 29.
With stakes running high, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed public rallies in support of Shekhawat and targeted Gehlot for “roaming around in the streets of Jodhpur” for his son’s victory.
Gehlot hit back saying, “Every father would do this for his son. Which father would not? But, Modiji would not understand this.”
He is heard targeting Modi in every poll rally. His refrain is, “The prime minister is diverting attention from real issues” and is “deliberately harping on nationalism.” He is also questioning Modi on other issues like jobs and agrarian distress to bring the narrative back on development matters.
Ask the voters and they say it seems as if this segment is witnessing a major contest between Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Gehlot even though neither of the two is contesting.
The BJP is relying on the “Modi factor” and nationalism as its poll plank while Gehlot is seeking to save his prestige and honour.
The BJP is working all to repeat its “Mission 25” plan by winning all seats as it had done in 2014. Gehlot too is not leaving anything to chance and is seen campaigning in the segment every other day. Locals say Gehlot has been holding meetings with all community leaders and recently organised the first ST conference here to ensure caste equations favour his son.
Sekhawat, however, says, “Committed vote banks favoured the Congress even in the last election but the BJP won.”
The sitting MP alleges that the chief minister is “using all his might” and “misusing state machinery” for his sons victory — a charge Gehlot counters saying he along with his deputy Sachin Pilot and other Congress leaders have already done several rounds of campaigning across the state and Jodhpur is no exception.
On the ground, voters can see the significance of the contest. “With the entry of the chief minister’s son, Jodhpur seat is witnessing a big clash. And, with Modi ji campaigning for Shekhawat, this seat is like seeing a contest between PM Modi and CM Gehlot,” says Jagdish Sankhla, a shopkeeper.
Shekhawat alleges that the manner in which Gehlot is campaigning indicates his “state of mind” and that there is “panic”. “Day and night, he is campaigning across the streets of Jodhpur. He is ready to compromise all 24 seats for one. This is the reflection of his mental state and his level of confidence,” Shekhawat said.
“This election is about government versus workers and common people. It is an election between the CM’s son and a common man’s son.” As Shekhawat flags nationalism and plays on the Modi factor, Vaibhav is seeking votes saying people should give him an opportunity to serve them, the way they gave his father five times in the past.
“I will serve you humbly and will always protect your honour. Please give me this opportunity to represent you and be your voice in Parliament,” he tells people as he seeks their votes and support.
Vaibhav, 38, is saying in poll rallies that though he has been campaigning for his father in Jodhpur for long and serving the organisation for 15 years, the party has given him an opportunity to represent the segment now. “I want to serve the people the same way as my father did for the past 40 years,” he says.
A son’s appeal to people’s emotions works with some locals, as businessman Bhagwan Dasssay, says, “If a CM’s son loses, CM will lose face. I don’t think people will let that happen. It is a question of Ashok Gehlot’s honour. It is the CM’s seat.”
But for Kailash, another local, “Modi is the only decisive leader India has seen after Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackrey. PM Modi saved India’s honour by attacking Pakistan and bringing a captured pilot back in a day. Why would people not vote to re-elect him as the prime minister?”
The BJP which has put in all it had in Jodhpur hopes nationalism will trump development as an issue on April 29, the day of voting.
“There is no issue here except nationalism,” says Shekhawat, adding that where people in 2014 saw Modi as a ray of hope, now they are looking towards him as someone who can deliver. Many locals also agree that Modi has delivered.
Local trader Sunil Khanna feels he has done a “good job”. “People are a bit confused here. Electing Gehlot’s son Vaibhav is important if people wish to ensure speedy development of the area but equally it is important that Modi is PM again. This election is close,” he says.