Having represented the Udaipur assembly seat in the past five elections, Rajasthan’s home minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Gulab Chand Kataria is probably facing the toughest political battle of his career. Widespread anti-incumbency combined with rebellion within BJP’s rank and file have made it an uphill task for Kataria to secure a sixth consecutive term from Udaipur assembly segment.

Widely considered to be one of the tallest leaders of BJP in the poll-bound state, Kataria’s close ties with BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, have helped the 74-year-old remain the undisputed choice for party ticket from this seat. Paradoxically, the discontent in the party rank and file is for this very reason, as the next generation of leadership has not been allowed to come up.

This discontent has thrown up multiple challengers who, after having waited for years to be nominated, are contesting as rebels, which has made Udaipur one of the most talked-about seats in these elections. It has also made Kataria extremely nervous, and he has been forced to make public appeals seeking support of his community to tide over this crisis. But Kataria’s problem is that one of his main challengers has not only been his closest associate for decades, but also belongs to the same community – the Jains.

Friend-turned-foe

“My only motive is to defeat Kataria. I don’t even care if Congress wins, I want Kataria defeated,” said Dalpat Surana, who is contesting on a Janta Sena ticket from Udaipur. Surana is expected to grab a segment of Kataria’s core vote share, which could be damaging for the home minister. “He is arrogant and has not allowed anyone else to rise in the party from this segment,” Surana added. “Because the RSS backs him, he thinks no one will dare to contest against him. If I was not in the fray, he would have won easily.”

Dalpat Surana's campaign. Image: Akash Bisht.
Dalpat Surana's campaign. Image: Akash Bisht.

Being a Jain helped Surana get the support of those who want Kataria defeated. Mangelal Joshi, a Brahmin leader, persuaded him to finish Kataria’s autocratic rule over BJP’s Udaipur unit, Surana said. There are nearly 44,000 Jain voters in the constituency, who are said to have voted as a block for Kataria in the past. “But that is all set to change,” Joshi said. “Surana finished everyone, including Jains, who had the potential to take the BJP forward after him. That is why we decided to choose a Jain candidate against him.”

Kataria, however, sought to dismiss the challenge, trying to sound confident of an easy victory. “There is still time for Surana to back down otherwise once the results are announced he could get into depression. He won’t be able to recover from this.”

Another of Surana’s supporters, who is actively involved with the RSS, claimed that though he was backing Surana in these assembly elections, he will back the BJP when it comes to Lok Sabha in 2019.

Surana is not the only rebel in the fray. Praveen Ratalia, who calls himself the youngest social activist in Asia and a fan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is also contesting against Kataria. Ratalia is the state president of Namo Vichar Manch.

“Surana’s ideology is similar to that of Congress,” Ratalia said. “He promotes dynastic politics and has not allowed the second generation of leadership to flourish. He is 75-years old and still hungry for power and I want to end his hold over Udaipur.”

A street scene in Udaipur. Image: Akash Bisht.
A street scene in Udaipur. Image: Akash Bisht.

Electoral issues

While Kataria tried to project optimism over his prospects, he did concede that demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax had caused widespread disquiet in his constituency. “But people are now recovering slowly,” Kataria said. While he admitted that unemployment is an issue among youngsters, he sought to offer his own version of pakoda economics. “Our government has provided them loans,” he said. “So even if they opened a paan shop, they are doing something.”

Many traders across the city accepted GST to be a problem and crucial factor in determining whom they would vote for. The lengthy process of filing returns with no provision for making corrections has unnerved them. RC Garg, a leading Chartered Accountant in Udaipur, said small businessmen from rural areas are severely affected by GST and using internet still remains tricky for them. “Their anger could translate into votes against the BJP,” he added.

On Vasundhra Raje’s tenure, Garg said the chief minister did not deliver on the tall promises she made five years ago. “She did absolutely nothing,” Garg added. “Job creation remains a major problem in urban and rural areas.”

Rajput anger

Another factor weighing against Kataria is the massive backlash he faces from the Rajput community, which has vowed to vote the BJP out of power.

Tanveer Singh Krishnawat, president of Mewar Kshatriya Mahasabha Sansthan, articulated the Rajput anger. “We have decided to boycott BJP and back any candidate who has the potential of defeating the saffron party’s candidate,” Krishnawat said. “They have ignored Rajputs while distributing tickets. There are 28 seats in Mewar and only two Rajputs have been given tickets. We have backed the BJP in the past but the party betrayed us.”

The party did not stand with the Rajputs, Krishnawat said, while mentioning the controversy over the demands for banning the film Padmavat, and the killing of community-member Anandpal Singh, a history-sheeter with several cases of murder, dacoity and kidnapping against him, in an alleged fake encounter.

Advantage Congress

All these factors are likely to eat into Kataria’s vote share and Congress’ Girija Vyas could pull off a surprise victory, which many believe will come as a major jolt for the BJP. Vyas had last won from Udaipur in 1999 Lok Sabha elections. Vyas, a Brahmin, is hoping to get a lion’s share of the Brahmin votes along with that of Muslims, Thakurs, Scheduled Castes and Gujjars.

“She would have certainly lost if I was not in the fray,” said Surana. His views were echoed by several others in the city, who called Vyas a weak candidate in comparison to Kataria.

Crucially, there are nearly 70,000 Muslim voters in Udaipur and their vote remains crucial to anyone seeking victory from this seat. A political strategist who did not wish to be identified explained why the Muslim vote could prove to be significant this time. “Most of the contractors who work on government projects are Muslims and the BJP paid them off before the elections and they ensured that these voters either go to Ajmer or don’t vote at all,” he said. “But getting Yogi Adityanath to campaign here has backfired for the the BJP,” the political strategist added. “His speeches have evoked strong response from Muslims who are determined to vote against BJP.”