In its fifth list of candidates announced on the last day of nomination on Monday, Bharatiya Janata Party fielded Yunus Khan, state minister for transportation and public works department, from the Tonk seat against state Congress chief Sachin Pilot.
Khan, who is considered number two in the state government, replaced the sitting BJP MLA Ajit Singh Mehta who was issued a ticket from Tonk in party’s first list announced last week. “Sachin Pilot thought that Tonk would be an easy seat to win but BJP has a stronghold over the Muslim votes in the area and we’ll also motivate the Jats and the Mali community to vote in our favour,” Sukhbir Singh Jaunapuria, BJP MP from the region told The Wire.
Tonk is a Muslim-dominated constituency with over 55,000 Muslim voters. Other communities include Scheduled Castes (40,000), Gujjars (22,000), Mali (20,000) and Jats (12,000). Out of the eight assembly elections since 1980, the BJP has won five times. The Tonk seat has rotated between Congress’s Zakiya and BJP’s Mahaveer Prasad, with an exception of BJP’s Mehta who won last time.
In the last assembly polls, Mehta won the seat for the first time with 66,845 votes, followed by an independent candidate, Saud Saidi who was also a former district president of the youth Congress in Tonk. Zakiya – who was elected from the seat for the first time in 1985 and later won it twice in 1998 and 2008 polls – stood third with 21,342 votes.
Interestingly, from former MLA to independent contestant of the last assembly elections, the leaders of the Muslim community have extended their support to Sachin Pilot.
“Our community thinks only about development and that’s why we lend complete support to Sachin Pilot ji. Even I wouldn’t be able to bring in as much development in Tonk as he would bring here,” said Saidi, runner-up from Tonk in the 2013 assembly polls.
Speaking to The Wire, Zakiya, a three-time Congress MLA from Tonk who is still quite popular among the locals for the development work she brought to the region, said, “I cannot even think of contesting against the Congress Party that gave me so much respect and an opportunity to serve the people of Tonk thrice.”
On being asked about Pilot’s prospects, Zakiya said: “Tonk has been a minority seat as Bharatpur is of Jats but the picture would be clear only after a week or so. One will have to see how the withdrawal of nomination would roll out.”
Chances of Yunus Khan – being the sole Muslim candidate nominated by the BJP – attracting minority votes are not bright. Two factors affect his candidature. One, he being a parachute candidate, there’s no past record of his work in the area that might please voters. And two, it is difficult for the community – traditionally a Congress supporter – to ignore his association with the BJP.
Abdul, a labourer from Santosh Nagar area in Tonk said, “The Muslim community in Tonk is so frustrated with the BJP rule that they would definitely support Congress irrespective of a Muslim candidate being nominated by the BJP. Post demonetisation and GST, labourers have lost their jobs. Due to the ban on sand mining, which gave employment to thousands in Tonk, workers have come on roads. I’ve witnessed that the people who once had comfortable jobs are now driving e-rickshaws to earn something in order to support their families.”
“In the name of development, BJP brought cleanliness but that doesn’t fill a poor family’s stomach. We need employment and more importantly, our jobs back,” he added.
On the other hand, with Sachin Pilot – who is believed to be a chief ministerial candidate – hopes are high that he would bring in the much-needed development in the constituency.
“Chances of Pilot winning from Tonk are definitely high. Everyone, from the business class to labourers, is suffering today and nothing substantial has been done here in terms of development. For us, both the candidates are parachuters, hence every voter will have his/her own preference,” Sanjay Jain, a cloth merchant in Tonk told The Wire.
Speaking to reporters after filing his nomination, Pilot said, “I’m happy that the BJP has shifted from the ‘Uttar Pradesh model’ it adopted for the 2017 polls when it didn’t field a single Muslim candidate. The BJP had given the candidature to someone else, but then they changed their mind after my candidature from Tonk. I’m happy that BJP had to shift from the Uttar Pradesh model but Khan is contesting from Tonk in a ‘half-hearted’ manner after being denied a ticket from his own constituency.”
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