Election 2019


Lok Sabha Polls 2019: "Past Hurts Never Leave": Manvendra Singh Returns To Barmer With Congress

Former BJP stalwart Jaswant Singh's son, Manvendra Singh, faces BJP's Kailash Chaudhary in a Jat vs Rajput contest for Barmer in 2019 Lok Sabha polls


Lok Sabha polls 2019: Former BJP lawmaker Manvendra Singh may be Congress' ace card in Barmer elections

Barmer, Rajasthan: 

Running along the western border with Pakistan and stretching for nearly 30,000 square kilometers, Barmer is one of India's largest parliamentary constituencies by area. 

This vast of land also includes tracts of the Thar Desert and amid the searing heat of the area, the battle for Barmer in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is haunted by ghosts of 2014 - old friendships gone sour, bitter political rivalries and the desire to settle scores for past wrongs.

In 2014 BJP veteran Jaswant Singh was denied a ticket from here; some say this was at the behest of former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. A bitter Mr Singh quit the BJP - a party he helped found with Mrs Raje's mother - and took party candidate Col. Sonaram head-on in the Lok Sabha elections that year.

Mr Singh polled over four lakh votes but lost to the BJP candidate by approximately 87,000 votes. Congress candidate Harish Chaudhary was a distant third with 2,20,881 votes.

It may not have been apparent back then but that face-off was the beginning of the end of a friendship between the Scindia and Jasol families that had lasted for generations. 

Fast forward five years and Col. Sonaram will not defend his seat in this general election. It is all change across the aisle too, with Mr Singh no longer active in politics.

In place of the incumbent parliamentarian, the BJP has nominated Kailash Chaudhary, a leader in the Jat community, who will count on those votes to help keep the seat for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Their main challenger is likely to be the Congress, who have nominated Mr Singh's son - Manvendra Singh to the seat.

He was a BJP legislator under Mrs Raje's leadership but parted ways with the party in September 2018, just ahead of Assembly elections, taking a chunk of the Rajput vote with him.

He has fought four elections from this seat - three national and one state, with the first in 1999.

However, while the desert terrain may be familiar territory for Manvendra, the equation within has changed over this bitter personal rivalry.

Was the younger Singh's decision to join the Congress influenced by the chance to settle old scores?
"... scores were already settled in the assembly elections but these past hurts never really leave you", a pensive Manvendra says, adding, "these things never leave your mind and soul really".

On competing on a Congress ticket, he says, "The symbol is a big change and with this symbol comes an entirely new sociology of elections".

Caste mathematics suggests these polls should swing in Manvendra's favour. 

Barmer, with a dominant Jat, Muslim and Scheduled Caste population, was considered a Congress bastion till Manvendra first breached it in 2004 on a BJP ticket. The party won it again in 2014, riding on the "Modi wave".

He has traditionally enjoyed the support of the Muslims and the Scheduled Caste populations here, although he now needs to focus on the Jats, who are a decisive voting force.

The BJP has sought to capitalize on those votes by fielding Mr Chaudhary who, for his part, is banking on PM Modi to see him through. Since he filed his nomination wearing a Modi jacket, Chaudhary has never taken it off.

"Like this jacket, which has so many Modi faces printed on it, Modi ji is in our hearts. He has done good work and should come back," he said.

Apart from the caste equations, the other real issue in this region is water scarcity.

In Uttarlai, a village 20 kilometres from Barmer, a farmer expresses his concern. Ganesha Ram says, "There has been almost no rainfall, our lakes are dry, our animals sheep and goats need water, we worry how will they survive the harsh summer".

Will this affect the way they vote?

"Not really", says his brother Ratna Ram, who adds, "Hardships were written in our fate the day we were born in this barren land. If the government will help us that will be good, otherwise we continue to endure like we always have".

In the final analysis, for both the Congress and the BJP, the results of voting in this desert region will likely come down to the social composition of its electorate and water.

Get the latest election news, live updates and election schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on ndtv.com/elections. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram for updates from each of the 543 parliamentary seats for the 2019 Indian general elections. Election results will be out on May 23.

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