As BJP attempts Rajasthan sweep, a family that was in its fold for 3 decades poses challenge

As BJP attempts Rajasthan sweep, a family that was in its fold for 3 decades poses challenge

Churu: As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attempts to repeat its 2014 performance of sweeping all 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan, it faces a challenge from a leader whose family has held the Churu seat for the party since 1999.

While 47-year-old Rahul Kaswan won the seat in 2014 and 2019, his father Ram Singh Kaswan was elected to Parliament from Churu on the BJP’s ticket in 1991, 1999, 2004, and 2009. Churu is among the 12 Lok Sabha constituencies in Rajasthan going to the polls Friday.

The BJP, which has mounted its campaign on the slogan ‘Abki Baar, 400 Paar’, dropped two-time Kaswan for the upcoming election in the constituency and fielded Devendra Jhajharia, India’s first Paralympic gold medallist from Churu.

In revolt over being denied a ticket, Kaswan has switched over to the Congress to contest the election, breaking his family’s three-and-a-half-decade association with the BJP.

Kaswan said there was no attempt from his side to polarise the voters on caste lines. He, however, said that “his people” were very angry at the BJP for denying him the ticket.

Jhajharia (43), an Arjuna awardee and Padma Shri, has won gold medals in javelin throw at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and Rio Olympics 2016, and a silver medal in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Though both Kaswan and Jhajharia are from the Jat community, Rajendra Rathore, a Rajput leader and former Leader of the Opposition whom Kaswan holds responsible for the BJP denying him the ticket, has emerged as a strong face of the BJP in Churu.

“Everyone in the Churu Lok Sabha constituency knows that Kaka Ji (Rajendra Rathore) is behind the denial of the BJP ticket to me. I have always addressed him as Kaka Ji (uncle) because he was in the party when my father used to contest this seat and was his old companion,” Kaswan told ThePrint.

Kaswan said Rathore made several attempts to ensure he didn’t get the ticket this time.

Congress Lok sabha candidate  Rahul Kaswan meeting public in the churu constituency, Rajasthan | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Congress Lok sabha candidate Rahul Kaswan meeting public in the churu constituency, Rajasthan | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

According to information available on the website of the State Electoral Officer of Rajasthan, the Churu Lok Sabha seat has 2,204,186 registered voters. According to an official who asked not to be named, about six lakh Jats form the biggest chunk of voters in Churu, followed by over 4 lakh SC voters, 2.8 lakh Muslims, and nearly 2 lakh Rajputs.

Speaking to ThePrint at his Churu home Wednesday in response to Kaswan’s allegations, Rathore said: “I spoke to one newspaper on this issue and that caused a big controversy. Since then, I have stopped speaking to the media on any issue.”

Seated close to Rathore, nearly half a dozen men could be seen dialling numbers from their cellphones and handing them over to him. The senior BJP leader would make similar appeals each time, speaking into the phone on one occasion: “Bhaayo, election phans gayo hai, jor laga do. Gaam me jaakarke milo logo se. Bolo vote idhar hi den (brother, the election has turned tricky. Try hard. Go to your village, meet people, and tell them to vote for us).”

After the first list was announced, Kaswan publicly asked the BJP central leadership whether he was denied a poll ticket for failing to be honest, hard-working, dedicated or for being tainted.

A BJP insider said the ticket denial was not linked to non-performance or anti-incumbency, but to anti-party activities.

Sitting on a bench outside a tea shop near the Churu Railway Station, Vijay Pal, a young man from Dhandhar village, said that Jhajharia was “just the face”. “The real election is now between Kaswan and Rathore,” he said.

Pal, a Jat, said the people of the constituency have a longtime association with the Kaswan family and cited improvements in the Delhi-Churu-Bikaner train services and the setting up of a stadium as examples of good work carried out by the father-son duo.

“It’s not just about the change of the candidate. We, in this desert area, don’t have any earnings from our agricultural lands. Our people look toward government jobs for survival. Jobs in the armed forces were always a priority. However, the BJP government brought the Agnipath scheme in which 75% of the armed forces recruits get just four years of service… People can’t just be satisfied with talks of India’s robust economy or Viksit Bharat till their fruits are there for us to enjoy,” said Pal.

A well-built youth with a long moustache sitting close to Pal intervened, saying people will vote to ensure Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes to power with a huge majority for the third time and leaders being fielded in individual seats did not matter in this election.

Introducing himself as Rudra Pratap Rathore from Churu, he said he was preparing for recruitment in the armed forces and the Agnipath scheme didn’t bother him at all.

“If I am good enough for the standards of the Indian Army, I will anyway be in the top 25% to be retained after four years of service. If I am not, I don’t have the right to cry, because the army should get the best people,” said Rathore.

Kishor Kant, who runs the Kishor Cycle Store in Churu, said rural voters were sharply polarised between Kaswan and Jhajharia, but the urban voters were largely with Modi.

Habib Khan, a resident of Naya Baas Mohalla, Churu, told The Print Wednesday that the Muslim voters are likely to be divided between the BJP and the Congress. “If the Congress gets 60-65% of the Muslim voters, the BJP is also likely to get its share as Rajendra Rathore has always been helpful for the Muslim community,” he said.

The Churu Lok Sabha constituency comprises eight assembly segments – Sadulpur, Taranagar, Sardarshahar, Churu, Ratangarh, and Sujangarh under the Churu district and Nohar and Bhadra from the Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan.

Of these, only Bhadra and Churu elected BJP MLAs in the assembly elections last year. The Sadulpur seat went to Bahujan Samaj Party, while Nohar, Taranagar, Sardarshahar, Ratangarh, and Sujangarh went to the Congress.

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

Also read: BJP’s ‘400 paar’ scares people who feel these polls may be last — Congress’s Churu pick Rahul Kaswan


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