As Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his predecessor Vasundhara Raje vie for another stint at the helm in Rajasthan, their close confidants are battling it out in the Kota North assembly constituency.
The fight in the constituency, where Shanti Dhariwal of the Congress is pitted against Prahlad Gunjal of the BJP, also represents the broader political narrative in the state – the welfare agenda of the Congress versus the Hindutva and anti-graft plank of the BJP.
Mr Dhariwal, the Minister of Local Self Government, Urban Development & Housing Department in the Ashok Gehlot government, got the Congress ticket after much internal debate as he was among the three people who were issued show-cause notices by the party after they did not attend a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party in September last year and held a parallel meeting of MLAs at his residence instead. A leadership change was on the cards at the legislature party meet.
Mr Gehlot is said to have strongly advocated Mr Dhariwal’s case with the high command which seemed reluctant to field him after his open defiance.
Mr Dhariwal, however, has emerged as a strong candidate on the back of his multi-crore riverfront project and the massive facelift carried out in Kota in the last five years, giving the city a distinct heritage look.
“The BJP will do well in this region. Though I am a BJP supporter, I cannot deny that Mr Dhariwal has done developmental work and given Kota a facelift. But whether he will get the votes and win will be seen. It is a tough fight,” Amrit Chauhan, an auto-rickshaw driver, said.
Mr Dhariwal’s refrain at public events is to point out the facelift Kota has received in the last few years, especially the flagship riverfront project here which he spearheaded.
However, Mr Gunjal has accused Mr Dhariwal of “massive corruption” and raises the issue in his public meetings.
Mr Gunjal is also consistently raising the issue of some statements made by Mr Dhariwal during the Congress government’s tenure which he claimed “dishonoured” women.
He cites Mr Dhariwal’s reported remarks last year on rapes in the state, purportedly saying it is a men’s state (mardon ka pradesh).
“The foul words used by the Congress candidate and the certificate given to him by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are among the main issues here,” Mr Gunjal told PTI.
“The statements made in Rajasthan assembly by him pertaining to women… ‘we are number one in rapes but this is a state of men’. These people have not only hurt the self-respect of women but have also dishonoured the land of Rajasthan, known for its history of valour of women,” he said.
“Look at the level of corruption that he has done. Earlier, only I used to say it but now when he went to ask for a ticket, Sonia ji and Rahul ji also said that. So he is the most corrupt in Rajasthan,” Mr Gunjal claimed.
Mr Gunjal, who is known to be a former chief minister Vasundhara Raje loyalist, said the history of 2013 assembly polls is going to be repeated this time. The BJP had won 163 seats at that time. And, Mr Gunjal defeated Mr Dhariwal in Kota North.
Asked if Ms Raje would return as the chief minister from the BJP, Mr Gunjal said, “We hope so, she is a big leader, the lone big face, has been a chief minister twice…the high command has to decide.”
Most people in Kota laud Mr Dhariwal for the riverfront project and credit him for changing the look of the city.
“The riverfront makes the city shine. It is beautiful. The heritage look at the crossroads has added to the facelift. All this work has been carried out by Mr Dhariwal,” Mohammad Hussain, another auto-rickshaw driver, said.
But whether that would convert into votes is to be seen, Mr Hussain added.
Both the Congress and the BJP are going all-out to win this prestigious seat.
It is also a prestige battle for Mr Gehlot as he secured Mr Dhariwal the ticket amid much internal opposition. Mr Dhariwal had also put his political future on the line in supporting Mr Gehlot during the Congress government’s tenure.
On the other hand, Mr Gunjal also faced opposition for the BJP ticket from sections in the party but finally managed to bag the nomination.
The revolving door trend in Rajasthan is best reflected in Mr Dhariwal’s political journey.
Mr Dhariwal won the assembly seat in the 1998 polls by defeating BJP’s Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi.
However, Dhariwal lost in 2003 when he was defeated by the BJP’s Om Birla by 10,101 votes.
Mr Dhariwal won the constituency in 2008 and 2018, but lost in 2013.
Assembly elections in Rajasthan will take place on November 25 and results will be out on December 3.
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