NEW DELHI/ JAIPUR: The Bharatiya Janata Party is fast losing ground in Rajasthan with dissension now openly rocking the party with senior leaders dropped from the candidates list now in the process of joining the Congress party or contesting independently as rebels. On the other hand, the Congress responding to adverse ground reports over a possible Sachin Pilot–Ashok Gehlot rift, has decided to field both in a bid to present a joint front.

Congress sources from within the state said that Pilot as the Provincial Congress Committee president was happy to sideline Gehlot as an “elder” who did not need to contest the state elections. However, Gehlot’s popularity on the ground forced a reconsideration in New Delhi with both leaders addressing a joint press conference at Jaipur today to announce their candidature.

Gehlot, a former chief minister and All India Congress Committee general secretary said, “Both, I and Sachin Pilot will fight the Rajasthan assembly elections." Sachin Pilot sitting beside him added, "On Congress president Rahul Gandhi's instruction and at Gehlotji's request, I have decided to contest the assembly elections." The decision to field Gehlot who is perceived as popular on the ground has been welcomed by the Congress party in Rajasthan, with the rift now avoided. “There is a wave for the Congress and against the BJP and now we will be able to gain from this,” the sources said.

Late on Sunday evening, the BJP released its first list of 131 candidates for the forthcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan. There are 12 women, 17 Scheduled Caste and 19 Scheduled Tribe candidates in the declared list. The BJP is not fielding any candidates from the religious minorities. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje will contest from her traditional seat of Jhalrapatan.

Soon after the list was declared, Surendra Goyal, the minister of public health engineering and groundwater in the state, resigned from the BJP.

The Citizen spoke to Goyal, a 5-time MLA, about the party’s ticket allotment for the upcoming elections. He said, “I was not given a ticket as I didn’t follow the RSS norms. Many other leaders who represent minority communities haven’t been given tickets either.”

Vasundhara Raje is following the norms of RSS and the Hindutva agenda, he said.

He added, “I believe in constitutional values. Former Vice-President of India Bhairon Singh Shekhawat introduced me into the BJP as he also believed in the same constitutional values. But in the current BJP regime, these values are under threat.”

Goyal intends to contest the election as an independent candidate.

Other dissenting voices within the party which do not align with the RSS agenda have been refused tickets in Rajasthan.

Minister Habibur Rahman Ashrafi Lamba, the MLA from Nagaur, is reported to have been in touch with Congress after not finding his name in the list. He has resigned from primary membership of the BJP.

As many as six state cabinet ministers – Yunus Khan, Rajpal Singh Shekhawat, Jaswant Singh, Kali Charan Saraf, Babu Lal Verma and HS Bhadana – have not been given tickets, creating an environment of strong anti-incumbency.

In this climate of uncertainty, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is eyeing the votes of the beneficiaries of various state government schemes. Last month in several public dialogue programmes the chief minister interacted with beneficiaries from among the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and newly recruited teachers.

In Rajasthan members of the Scheduled Tribes constitute some 13 percent of the total population of the state. While the BJP is trying to target them as a voter base, there have been speculations of rising anti-incumbency within ST members of the party.

The declared list of candidates includes Golma Devi, who is married to Rajya Sabha MP Kirorilal Meena, and Rajendra Meena, the son of sitting MLA Kunjilal Meena. Both leaders have strong appeal within the ST community in the state.

For the past 20 years, Rajasthan voters have thrown the ruling party out of power in every assembly election. This year the BJP is claiming it will break the jinx and continue in power, while the Congress is predicting its own return to power under the leadership of Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot.

The Congress is likely to announce its list of candidates in the next few days. Rajya Sabha MP Selja Kumari along with Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot held a meeting at Sonia Gandhi’s residence on Monday, November 12.

The nomination process for the Rajasthan assembly elections also began on that day. The state goes to polls on December 7.