As counting of votes begins on December 11, and the nation awaits the mandate of the 4.74 crore voters in Rajasthan, one of the most keenly watched contests will be 100 km from Jaipur in the high profile assembly seat of Tonk. It is from this seat that former central minister and president of Congress’ state unit Sachin Pilot is taking on the BJP’s lone Muslim candidate, Yunus Khan and BSP’s Mohammed Ali.
Pilot, 41, who comes from a Gujjar family, is contesting assembly polls the first time. He has so far successfully contested Lok Sabha polls in 2004 and 2009 and served as Union minister in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet between 2012 and 2014.
Son of late Union minister Rajesh Pilot, Sachin has many responsibilities in the state. Besides securing a win for himself in Muslim-dominated Tonk, he has also been tasked by the party in his party’s quest to overpower the ruling BJP.
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The arithmetic behind Congress’ decision to field Pilot from Tonk appeared simple. The Assembly seat has a little over 50,000 Muslim voters who are traditionally seen as the Congress’ core vote-bank. Add around 30,000 Gujjars and some from the other communities, and Pilot looked set to steer clear. However, the entry of Khan, a political heavyweight in Rajasthan, has put the Congress in a spot. The seat has 30,000 Gujjars, 35,000 SC and 15,000 Mali community voters.
The Congress has emerged victorious from this seat only twice — in 1998 and 2008. Incidentally, on both these occasions, the candidates were Muslim. For Pilot too, this battle has high stakes. Being one of the two top contenders for the Chief Minister’s post from the Congress, losing his seat could automatically scuttle his chances.
The BJP, on the other hand, played its cards smartly and pitted its lone Muslim minister in Raje cabinet, Yunus Khan, against Pilot at the eleventh hour. The move came after Congress decided to field Pilot instead of a Muslim candidate as it did for the past 46 years. Interestingly, the BSP has also fielded a Muslim nominee from here. Also, the one independent candidate who is seeking election from here comes from the Muslim community.
Going by the arithmetic, the Congress was expecting an easy win for Pilot and banking heavily on Muslims and Gujjar voters, a Muslim candidate from the BJP, BSP and independent may result in cross-voting and prove decisive for Sachin Pilot when elections are held. Khan is considered a close confidant of Raje and is the lone Muslim candidate in the BJP’s list of 200 candidates.
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Tonk is situated on the bank of river Banas. It was founded in 1647 by Amir Khan Pindari. The assembly is located around 100 km from Dausa and 200 km from Ajmer, the two seats Pilot represented in Lok Sabha between 2004-09 and 2009-14, respectively.
Both Pilot and Khan are new to the people of Tonk. While Khan himself is camping here and spearheading the campaign, Pilot is leading the Congress in the state and visits the constituency occasionally. “Even though he (Khan) was not willing to contest from here (Tonk), the BJP has fielded him,” Pilot said.
“Wo pilot hai, mai sadak ka mantri hoon. Mai zameen par chata hoon, wo aasmna mein udte hai. (He is a Pilot but I am a mantri of roadside. I walk on the road, but flies). One side you have a sevak and another side you have a swami,” he said.
Voting across 199 of 200 Assembly seats in Rajasthan will be held on December 7 and the counting will be done on December 11.