After trouble erupted in the Congress over denial of ticket to veteran leader Bulaki Das Kalla, the party named him for Bikaner West, shifting Yashpal Gehlot to Bikaner East, in its third list of 18 candidates released on Sunday.
The Congress feels that strong public sentiments are ruling against the BJP government. As they struggle to make ends meet, farmers, labourers and nomadic tribes in the the seven Assembly constituencies in the Bikaner region will vote for the party that offers livelihood solutions.
Farmers’ agitations have broken out in this land of toil and tolerance over irrigation water, low minimum support price for crops and increase in power tariff. The decline in livelihood opportunities confronts the youth who have rested their hopes on institutions such as Bikaner Technical University.
Surendra Prajapati, owner of the “Nakshatra” brand of Bikaneri Bhujia, which he launched in 2015, says the local manufacturers are still reeling under the impact of demonetisation and the GST, though the product was given the Geographical Indication tag in 2010.
The supporters of Mr. Kalla, a former Pradesh Congress Committee president who has been active in public life for four decades, had accused Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Rameshwar Dudi of disturbing the equations in all constituencies to secure his Nokha seat.
A section of party workers alleged that Kanhaiya Lal Jhanwar, who was defeated by Mr. Dudi in 2013, was brought to the Congress fold at Mr. Dudi’s behest and fielded from Bikaner East.
Protests erupted over the weekend in the seats where the “unexpected candidates” were brought in despite the need to give a tough fight to the ruling BJP. Congress workers staged a demonstration, burnt tyres on roads and blocked the railway track in Bikaner West to protest against the candidature of Mr. Gehlot.
After the party shifted Mr. Gehlot and withdrew Mr. Jhanwar’s candidature, an agitated Mr. Dudi announced at a public meeting here that he would not contest the election if the Congress failed to review its decision. Political observers feel that such a reaction by the senior party leader was more in the nature of a “pressure tactic”.
However, former municipal councillor Shyam Tanwar told The Hindu that it was high time the senior Congress leaders gave an opportunity to the second-rung leadership to emerge and let the young generation enter the electoral fray. In his initial round of campaign, Mr. Jhanwar had promised resolution of the long-pending construction of an elevated road near Kote Gate in the heart of the city.
In the BJP camp, veteran Rajput leader and former Minister Devi Singh Bhati, who has retired from active politics, has managed to obtain party ticket for his daughter-in-law Punam Kanwar from his stronghold, Kolayat. Mr. Bhati had opposed the party central leadership’s move to appoint Union Minister of State Gajendra Singh Shekhawat BJP State president.
Two-time MLA Siddhi Kumari, belonging to the erstwhile royal family, is the face of the BJP once again from Bikaner East, though she carries the tag of an “absentee legislator”. According to a report of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), Ms. Kumari attended only 18 of the 139 sittings of the Assembly since 2013 and asked 11 questions. The BJP workers are also making preparations for a grand roadshow of party president Amit Shah in the city on Wednesday, when he will land at the Nal airport here.
Anees Akhtar, social activist, recalls that even during the so-called wave in 2013 when the BJP received a historic mandate, the party lost three of the seven constituencies.
The Bahujan Samaj Party is testing the waters in Bikaner district by astutely trying for a Dalit-Muslim alliance, wherever possible. Rafiq Shah, BSP candidate from Bikaner East, an erstwhile Congress leader and sarpanch of Jamsar village, says the “arrogance” of the Congress and its leaders’ attitude of ignoring the weaker sections after coming to power had made the party unpopular.