In Barmer, parties play caste card, voters apathetic

The enthusiasm is lacking in both party workers as well as voters. (DH Photo/Tabeenah Anjum)

As one enters Barmer, India's largest geographic constituency, the parched land is reminiscent of drought both politically and environmentally. Right from the narrow lanes of the old city to the last village at the Indo-Pak border, there are hardly any visible billboards or posters of candidates contesting for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. The enthusiasm is lacking in both party workers as well as voters.

This election, the BJP has nominated Kailash Chaudhry from the Barmer seat, while the Congress has fielded Manvendra Singh, son of former BJP leader Jaswant Singh.

While most people connect to Manvendra and his father's legacy, when it comes to identifying the face of BJP, people connect less with Kailash Chaudhry and the talk is more about Narendra Modi. 

Manvendra is confident of winning the seat as he claims to have support across the state. In most of the public meetings, he also doesn't forget to remind people how the BJP denied ticket to his father in 2014 and hurt their dignity.

Interestingly, in 2014, the BJP had fielded Col Sona Ram Choudhary in place of Jaswant Singh. Sona Ram Choudhary was a three-time MP from Barmer, from 1996 till 2004, when he was defeated by Manvendra. However, he was dropped by the BJP this year looking at the Jat-Rajput caste equation. 

In Barmer, caste will play a decisive role this time. Out of 19.5 lakh voters in the constituency, 4 lakh are SC/ST, 3.5 lakh are Jats, 2.5 lakh Rajputs, 3 lakh minorities besides other communities.

The BJP has played the Jat card by fielding Kailash Chaudhry, who also happens to be a history-sheeter as per police records. Chaudhry himself openly acknowledges in public meetings that six cases are registered against him under various sections of IPC.

The constituency has also seen a shift in vote banks. While Rajputs used to be the traditional vote bank of the BJP, with Manvendra's candidature, the vote share has gone to Congress. Similarly, the BJP is thriving on Jat votes especially after Hanuman Beniwal, Jat leader and RLP founder, joined the party ahead of the polls.

Electricity and drinking water are major issues faced by people of most villages in the district. Many villages have shown their discontent towards governments, both at the Centre and state, and have decided to boycott voting.

Barmer will go to polls in the fourth phase on April 29.

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