Jodhpur is the home turf of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. He is contesting from the Sardarpura constituency in the old and congested parts of the city. He has represented this constituency five times consecutively, after he began his political journey from here.

Expectedly he has a tremendous influence in the area and this is reflected in the response one gets on talking to the commoners here. The general reaction is, “We do not elect a legislator, we elect a Chief Minister.”

Gehlot is known to make an appearance before his voters just a couple of days before the polls, and this sole visit ensures they vote for him. This time is no different as Gehlot had not campaigned in his constituency till November 20, even as he focused on the rest of the state.

His opponent is Mahendra Singh Rathod of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Since his father was a magician from the Mali community, people fondly refer to him as ‘Jaadugar’ not only in Sardarpura but across the state.

But this is from where the story of Jodhpur and its adjoining areas begins. Jodhpur district with 10 Assembly constituencies is the most influential in the Marwar region of the state that covers a large part of the border districts like Jaisalmer and Barmer as well.

Of the 33 seats spread across this region, the Congress had won 16 in the 2018 elections. This time it is the rebels, independents and representatives from the smaller outfits that have added to the political complexities.

The people also point out and joke about the infighting and possible internal damages being the most worrying factor for the contestants on many seats.

There are reports being played up in the local media of internal damage and rebel candidates casting a shadow on the poll outcome in 18 of the 33 seats spread across the districts of Jodhpur, Barmer, Pali and Sirohi. The failure of the top leadership of the two main parties to rein in the rebels on many seats is also being reported extensively.

Jodhpur is a place where one experiences the fervour of traditional electioneering that has come to define Indian politics over the decades. Political messages blare from auto rickshaws, small teams of party workers visiting different localities to seek votes for their candidates and also hoardings at places coupled with wall writing with catchy slogans.

The constituencies in the Jodhpur region other than Sardarpura are Jodhpur City, Sursagar, Luni, Osiyan, Bilada, Phalodi, Bhopalgadh, Lohawat and Shergadh.

There is no dearth of issues to talk about here, starting from civic amenities to employment. Loud debates are often generated by just touching upon the BJP’s nationalism narrative.

But at the same time there is a lot of sarcasm and scepticism that accompanies the public response when one talks about the issues. As a farmer at the Krishi Mandi in Bhagat ki Kothi area that was visited by this reporter put it, “Issues are just there to be debated and while away time. The people vote based on various considerations like caste or other factors.

“But When our delegations approach them or the ministers with our issues we are told that the matter is under consideration and will be taken up in the next meeting.”

Like in the other parts of the country, the farmers in this area too want a minimum support price (MSP) regime for the entire agricultural produce and have growing concerns about the dwindling scope of mandis and growing interference of middlemen procuring the produce directly from the villages for business and corporate entities.

“The worst affected are the farmers that are dependent on rain fed agriculture who do not have access to canal irrigation. This year we have had a poor crop of moong and bajra on account of excess rain.

“The returns that we got have been poor. It is difficult to meet even input costs. The governments need to take solid steps to save agriculture and to address the problem of inflation,” Ramesh Solanki, a farmer from Jhanwar village of Luni area, said.

He added that whenever the crops do not get good returns, the farmers have to look for other avenues of employment like working in edible oil mills and pulse mills that dot the region. At the same time Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) has come as a saviour for many, Solanki added, while underlining that the government’s decision to give 200 units of power free in the rural areas has also helped the farmers a lot.

There is an interesting pattern of political understanding as one talks to the people. Almost everyone, whether from the rural or urban areas, is appreciative of the welfare schemes initiated by the government under Gehlot in the last five years. The political differences come after this.

For those airing resentment against the Congress, the BJP means Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They are not talking about any regional leaders.

Many in fact are appreciative of the party high command having sidelined Vasundhara Raje. The BJP is aggressive on issues of nationalism and is attacking the Congress on lack of governance with even Modi alleging that the Congress leaders were busy getting each other run out instead of governing in the last five years. The right wing elements are meanwhile playing up the narratives on communalism.

“There is no doubt that the Gehlot government came up with many pro people measures. But one has to take into consideration the political trend of choosing alternates every five years. This time, the BJP has also been working very hard.

“Look at the leaders like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath and several others addressing rallies in the smallest and the most remote of constituencies trying to reach out to the people,” Kanti Lal Soni, a resident of Jodhpur town who hails from a village in Barmer district said.

The voters are clear on their priorities when one gets them talking. “Me being a small government employee will obviously want the Gehlot government to return given the benefits like the old pension scheme that he has extended to the employees,” Mitu Lal said, as this reporter started a discussion at a tea joint near the famous Ghanta Ghar of Jodhpur city.

But a man sitting next to Lal had a different take, “I would rather vote for Modi’s face given the doles extended to us during the Covid 19 lockdown.”

Both were however critical of the BJP narrative on the deteriorating law and order scenario in the state. “While it is true that there have been instances of heinous crime in the recent past, one cannot generalise things. The common people do not have a criminal bent of mind and are rather concerned about the safety and security of each other.

“The politicians do not realise how much damage such loose utterances can cause to the tourism prospects of the state that is known globally for its tourist destinations,” they said.

A factor that does not figure in the routine poll reportage on employment is that of privatisation and under employment.

“People think I have a good cushy job but only I know how insecure I am given the fact that I am working in a private run entity. What has happened is that people who could have been regular government employees earning a decent amount are now compelled to work on one fourth the wages and with no job security,” a youngster who is employed at the famous high end Palace on Wheels train for the last few years having completed a course in hotel management, said.

Another major factor at work in the elections, particularly in the Marwar region is the caste combinations. Every constituency has a dominant caste or a combination that gives an advantage to a candidate.

With the Congress adding the caste census spice to the already complex caste scenario, the narrative has become all the more complicated. There is a section that believes that the political class has always used caste as a tool to divide the majority community.

Equally vocal is the counter that the country needs to know the exact caste scenario and how the resources have been divided all this while.