Tonk assembly seat: Pilot eyes 2018 encore as BJP banks on ‘local vs outsider’ pitch

Tonk: Former Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot’s stature as a national-level Congress leader and his outreach to allay concerns of sections of influential communities here ahead of assembly polls has boosted his re-election bid from this constituency amid the BJP’s strong push for Hindutva and the “local versus outsider” narrative.

BJP’s Ajit Singh Mehta is pitching it as a “local versus outsider” battle, claiming that Pilot this time does not have the CM face advantage he had last time.

Mehta has been asserting that he is a Tonk resident who knows the micro-problems faced by people. He has been claiming that Pilot is an “outsider” who had won big last time due to the chief ministerial face advantage he had.

But Pilot’s core voters are unfettered by his not becoming the chief minister during the Congress tenure or not being declared the CM face this time.

“Pilot will be CM, if not today, then tomorrow or day after. He is the future. People are talking of Tonk in this election because he is contesting from here. He is a national-level leader and more importantly, a nice guy,” Mohammad Rizwan Ali, who owns a tailoring shop in the main market here, said.

Mehta and the BJP know that it would be difficult to breach the Muslim-Gurjar vote bank of Pilot which seems intact and are working to consolidate the Hindu vote besides Gurjars, highlighting what they say is the Congress’ appeasement politics and Mehta’s credentials as a local leader.

BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri, who has been given poll responsibilities in Tonk by the BJP, had recently said that Lahore is keeping an eye on elections in Rajasthan and Tonk.

“We will have to see whether laddus will be distributed in the country or in Lahore after the elections on the 25th The enemy sitting outside the country is keeping an eye on this election. It is a question of our identity,” Bidhuri had said while addressing a youth workers’ meeting organised by Mehta.

Pilot, meanwhile, has expressed confidence of getting re-elected from the constituency with a good margin, saying he would be able to secure as good a mandate as last time.

“I think the people of Tonk have given me a lot of blessings and support in the last election. In these five years, we have been able to bring about development that was not there in this area. So I am quite confident that the Congress will secure as good a mandate as last time,” Pilot told PTI while campaigning for the assembly elections.

“The work that we have done, the fact that we have been able to carry everyone together and without being biased, the kind of development we were able to achieve. So a lot of rural infrastructure, healthcare, education, young people’s future, we were able to deliver in those areas,” the former Rajasthan deputy chief minister said.

“In this district, the Congress party would do well. Not just my own constituency but the entire district, Last time, out of four seats, we won three, so this time we hope to do that much or better,” Pilot said.

In 2018 assembly polls in Tonk, Pilot, a two-time Member of Parliament, had defeated Yoonus Khan with a massive margin of 54,179 votes on the seat.

BJP supporters and voters argue that the last time they also did not support the party candidate Khan but this time since a local person was contesting, they would back him and the election was not an open and shut case or at the least, the margin of victory for Pilot would be reduced.

Tonk has a sizable population of Muslims and Gurjars and there were some concerns with a section of the Muslim populace expressing their disenchantment with not being able to reach out to Pilot directly.

Several Muslim Congress rebels had filed their nominations against Pilot but later withdrew them.

“Our community had some concerns but Pilot Sahab reached out to our elders and had removed all doubts. Now everyone is firmly behind him,” Ali told PTI.

Echoing similar views, Allimuddin Khan, who also owns a shop in the market, said Pilot had reached out to all directly in the last few months and whatever doubts there were in the minds of some sections have been removed.

Significantly, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate, Ashok Bairwa, has also extended support to Pilot in the Tonk seat in the upcoming Assembly election.

Bairwa said he would campaign for Pilot. He said he wanted to withdraw his candidature, but could not do it because of paucity of time on the last day of withdrawal of nominations.

Asked about Pilot’s chances, most Muslims and Gurjars here have an emphatic reply that the election would be one-sided.

However, there are also those believe that his victory is not a given thing this time and if nothing else a drop in victory margin was on the cards for Pilot.

“Last time it was different, this time there is a local candidate and BJP supporters are backing him. It is easier to approach him while one has to take the long route to reach Pilot Sahab,” Sanjay Dikshit, discussing the polls prospects at a tea shop in the centre of the city, said.

“It is not an open and shut case. Pilot Sahab is now being made to work hard. He may win but by a reduced margin,” Kailash Bhagwani, a doctor by profession, said.

However, Shivshankar Upadhyay, owner of a stationary shop in the market, was definitive in favour of Pilot’s victory.

“It is Pilot all the way here. His juggernaut will roll on, 5,000 votes more or less, but his victory is certain,” he said.

Mohammad Mohsin, a paan shop owner outside the city’s Jama Masjid, said the important thing was that since Pilot was elected, there had been no communal clash here and that was the most important thing for development.

There are over the 2.46 lakh voters in Tonk with Muslims, Gurjars and Scheduled Castes in substantial numbers.

Rajasthan goes to polls on November 25 and the results will be declared on December 3.

Press Trust of India (PTI) is India’s premier news agency, having a reach as vast as the Indian Railways. It employs more than 400 journalists and 500 stringers to cover almost every district and small town in India.

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