Sardarpura stands by Gehlot, their CM face

Senior Congress leader Ashok Gehlot. PTI Photo 

All eyes are on Sardarpura as people feel they would be electing the next chief minister of Rajasthan. Yes, Ashok Gehlot is contesting for the fifth time from this urban constituency and is seen to be comfortably placed.

Gehlot has represented Sardarpura, a constituency nestled in the heart of the Marwar region of the Thar desert, since 1998. The soft-spoken Congress leader is a two-time chief minister and has represented Jodhpur in the Lok Sabha five times.

No wonder people in this high-profile constituency say they are voting for the next chief minister in this 67-year-old seasoned politician. Even the BJP supporters admit that Gehlot will have a smooth sailing.

Pitted against him is Shambhu Singh Khetasar of the BJP. Gehlot defeated Khetasar by over 18,000 votes in 2013. Despite the loss, Khatesar was rewarded with the political post of chairman of Rajasthan State Seeds Corporation.

Sources in the BJP say Khatesar wanted to contest this time from the Osian seat where he came second in the 2008 polls while contesting as an Independent. Osian is 70 km away from Sardarpura.

In 2009, Khatesar joined the BSP and contested the Lok Sabha elections from Pali unsuccessfully, a defeat in all three elections on a trot. But Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje handpicked him again for the Sardarpura seat this time.

While Khatesar is a Rajput, Gehlot is a Mali (OBC). But supporters of both the parties say caste may not play a huge role in Sardarpura.

The BJP has the backing of the Rajputs and Brahmins are not so close to Gehlot, so they are largely expected to vote for the BJP.

Of the around 2.11 lakh voters in the constituency, the Mali community has about 40,000 voters, Muslims constitute around 30,000 and there are around 25,000 Rajput voters.

Despite the setbacks, Khatesar is a confident man. The Rajput leader says last time he was given the ticket at the eleventh hour. Since the party chose him early this time, Khetasar says he will prove his mettle.

But Gehlot’s vote share has been on the rise. The former chief minister’s vote share increased by over 22,000, from 55,516 in 2008, to 77,835 in 2013. Though impressive, the BJP has also consistently increased its vote share in the constituency in every passing election since 1999.

From around 20,000 votes in the 1999 by-poll, the BJP’s vote share increased to 39,000 in 2003, 40,000 in 2008 and 59,000 in 2013.

Irrespective of this, the voters, especially those backing the Congress, would be looking for Gehlot to take oath as chief minister for the third time after the December 7 elections.

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