Rajasthan Assembly Elections 2018: Congress breaks 46-year-old tradition by fielding Sachin Pilot from Tonk
As a child, Sachin Pilot often visited a temple of Devnarayan, worshipped by the Gujjars as an incarnation of Vishnu, in Tonk district with his father, Rajesh Pilot. In September this year, he took his two sons, Aaran and Vehaan, to the temple known as Dev Dham Jodhpuriya. Little aware that two months later, it will be Tonk from where he will contest his first Rajasthan Assembly Elections 2018 .
The party’s decision to field the 41-year-old president of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee from Tonk has broken the 46-year-old tradition of fielding a Muslim candidate in the constituency. The BJP has fielded Mahavir Prasad Jain since 1980 and replaced him with Ajit Singh Mehta in 2013. The party has again fielded Mehta for the December 7 assembly election.
Pilot has been Lok Sabha MP from Dausa in 2004 and from Ajmer in 2009. He lost the 2014 election to BJP’s Sanwar Lal Jat. However, after Jat’s death, the party recaptured the seat in 2017 by-election and Raghu Sharma became the Ajmer MP.
Geographically, Tonk falls in between Pilot’s Lok Sabha constituencies. But that’s just a coincidence – there are other reasons for the Congress leader to contest from the former princely state ruled by Nawabs.
Out of about 222,000 voters in Tonk
40-50,000 are Muslims, which may be the reason why the Congress always fielded a Muslim from the seat since the 1972 assembly election. And that could be reason why the BJP always fielded an RSS leader.
One of Tonk’s biggest Muslim families, the Saidis, is also related to Sachin Pilot. Family patriarch Dr Ajmal Saidi shared his hostel room in Jaipur’s Sawai Man Singh Medical College with Dr Farooq Abdullah. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and Pilot’s father-in-law. Dr Abdullah often visited the family in Tonk.
Dr Ajmal Saidi’s sixth child, Saud Saidi, was president of the Tonk District Congress Committee for seven years beginning 2002. He sought party’s ticket for 2008 and 2013 assembly elections but lost the race to Zakiya, who stopped using her husband’s surname, Inam, after their divorce. Zakiya has contested on Congress ticket in 1985, 1990, 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2013 assembly elections, winning in 1985, 1998 and 2008.
“We were very keen that Pilot saab should either contest the Lok Sabha from Tonk (the constituency is Tonk-Sawai Madhopur) or the assembly election from this constituency. Ek bada neta aayega to vikas hoga (if a big leader represents the constituency, it will get developed),” said 47-year-old Saud Saidi, who contested as an Independent in 2013 and ended up as runner-up but managed to poll more votes than Zakiya.
However, it was not easy for Zakiya to let her constituency slip out of her hands. “Badi bechaini ho rahi hai (I am feeling a lot of anxiety),” she said when reached for her reaction. The 69-year-old Botany postgraduate did not say whether she will support Sachin Pilot or oppose him. But said, “Minority ka haq jata hai to repercussions to honge hi (If the minority lose their right, it is bound to have repercussions).”
Apart from the Muslims
There are around 20-30,000 Gujjars, 35,000 SCs and 15,000 Malis in Tonk constituency. Pilot is a Gujjar. SCs, especially the Bairwas, are traditionally Congress supporters. If Muslims, Gujjars and SCs vote for Pilot. He may have a smooth sailing in Tonk against BJP’s Ajit Singh Mehta, who is the sitting MLA.
But there’s a doubt that all Muslims will rally behind the Congress. Zakiya gave an indication of this and there were sporadic protests by Muslims in Tonk on Friday.
Pilot says he didn’t choose Tonk, the party chose it for him. “It was the party’s order that I contest the assembly elections and it chose Tonk for me,” he said.
However, locals say the PCC chief tested waters in Tonk when he organised the ‘Mera Booth, Mera Gaurav’ programme of Ajmer division in Tonk in May this year.
The Congress has lost Tonk, whenever it has, because of non-cooperation of some influential Muslim families. These families told Pilot that if he decided to contest from Tonk. All of them could work unitedly for the party, said a member of one of these families on conditions of anonymity.
BJP MLA Mehta called Pilot an outsider. “Their party president said no parachute candidate will get tickets and has now sent an outsider to Tonk. Ignoring their traditional Muslim candidates,” he said.
Avinash Rai Khanna, BJP state incharge, also called Pilot an absconder for contesting from Tonk. “He has changed his constituencies from Dausa to Ajmer to Tonk,” he said.
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