For several years, Mahendra Singh Rathore had been appealing to the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership, seeking a ticket in the Rajasthan elections. This year, he did not have to ask. The party’s core committee offered him the ticket from the Sardarpura seat, in Jodhpur district. This was a key seat in Rajasthan, which goes to polls on 25 November. Rathore is competing against the incumbent chief minister, Ashok Gehlot, who is contesting the seat for the sixth consecutive time since 1998, when he was named chief minister and won the Sardarpura bypoll. Gehlot has not lost the seat since.
Rathore has served as the chairman of the Jodhpur Development Authority and is a professor at the Jai Narayan Vyas University. I met him after he had finished speaking at a Ravana Rajput Samaj gathering in Sardarpura, attended by over two hundred and fifty members of the Ravana Rajput community. During his address, he claimed that the Gehlot government had offered “Rooh Afza” to certain communities—a reference to Muslims and an evident attempt at characterising the Congress government’s policies as appeasement. “We are ignored because we are sanatan dharmi”—followers of sanatan dharma, or Hindu tenets.
I asked him what made him a suitable candidate for the seat. “I am a man of sangathan,” he told me—a man of the cadre. He said he had not asked for a ticket this time. Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat was rumoured to be the BJP candidate in the Sardarupura seat, until Rathore was named in the party’s third list. In the 2019 general election, Shekhawat had defeated Gehlot’s son, Vaibhav Gehlot, by 2.79 lakh votes in the Jodhpur parliamentary seat. I asked Rathore why Shekhawat was not nominated. “Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is the leader of the state. He is going to different parts of the state talking about the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Rathore told me. “BJP ekjut ho kar election lad rahi hai”—the BJP is united in fighting the election.