Jaipur: With just a week to go for the Ajmer Lok Sabha by-elections, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress have intensified their campaigning for the much-staked contest. The by-polls on January 29 in Ajmer and Alwar parliamentary and Mandalgarh assembly seats are likely to test the electoral readiness of the Vasundhra Raje-led BJP government ahead of the state assembly elections later this year.
Significantly, votes are being polled just four days after the release of the film "Padmaavat", which has been vehemently opposed by the Rajput groups, who say the film distorts history and insults their legendary queen Padmavati. Upset over the release, the Rajputs, nearly two lakh voters in the constituency, have decided to vote against the ruling BJP.
There are over 18 lakh voters in the Ajmer Lok sabha constituency, which fell vacant after the death of BJP MP Sanwar Mal Jat. The BJP has fielded his son Ramswaroop Lamba, hoping for a sympathy vote. The Rajput Sabha, however, has openly come out in support of the Congress candidate, Raghu Sharma.
The Rajasthan government was the first to ban the film, but on January 19 the Supreme Court cancelled the ban on "Padmaavat", saying the film cannot be banned by states on account of potential law and order trouble.
Rajasthan Law Minister Rajendra Rathore, who himself is a Rajput and has been voicing his concern over the release of the film, said, "the chief minister has made a three-member committee to look into the 'Padmaavat' matter. We are looking at how we can file a review petition, will take all steps to stop the film."
The Rajasthan government on Sunday said it has invited the Rajput Karni Sena and Rajput associations to be a party in its review petition in the Supreme Court against its order allowing the release of film "Padmaavat". Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told news agency IANS that the invitation was given to "strengthen the case" against the film.
The Ajmer by-election is also a prestige battle for both Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot, whose party is trying to cash in on the anti-incumbency.
"The state government has stopped wages under MNREGA, they are not giving rations or pensions what has the government done," the Congress' Raghu Sharma said.
For Vasundhara Raje, a win in the by-elections - just ten months ahead of the assembly polls - will consolidate her position as the undisputed leader of the BJP in Rajasthan.
Meanwhile, the encounter of gangster Anandpal, who was from the Rajput community, in Nagaur last year is another reason why Rajputs have turned their backs against the BJP. Though the Vasundhara Raje government has agreed for a CBI enquiry into the killing, the issue still echoes in the electoral landscape even a year later.