Sawai Madhopur: In this sleepy town of Rajasthan located next to the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, caste equations are the deciding factors in the assembly poll contest and not ecological or environmental issues.
The focus here is on the hotly-contested assembly poll with BJP's Rajya Sabha MP Kirodi Lal Meena taking on the sitting Congress MLA Danish Abrar.
Spicing up the contest in this constituency, that has a substantial population of Meenas, Muslims and Gurjars, is BJP rebel Asha Meena who is contesting as an independent after being denied ticket by the saffron party. She had lost as the BJP candidate to Abrar in the 2018 assembly elections.
This is a crucial seat in eastern Rajasthan and all eyes are glued on it as a triangular contest is playing out.
Sawai Madhopur has 2,36,199 registered electors out of which 1,63,584 came out to vote in 2018, with the Congress' Abrar emerging victorious with 85,655 votes, over 25,000 more than the BJP's Asha Meena. Abrar got a sizable vote of Muslims, Gurjars and other communities, while Meenas mostly sided with Asha Meena.
This time round while Abrar is facing difficulty in getting Gurjar votes as he had not sided with Sachin Pilot in the 2020 rebellion against the Ashok Gehlot government, the BJP candidate Kirodi Lal Meena is facing a split in vote of the Meenas with a section from the community siding with Asha on the grounds that she is a local.
The BJP has fielded veteran Meena community stalwart Kirodi Lal Meena in a bid to have a positive effect in nearby constituencies. Moreover, he has a clout in the tribal community and at 72 years of age, he is pitching it as his swan song.
Kirodi Lal Meena, known by monikers such as "Doctor Sahab" and "Baba", has been at the centre of state politics recently as he has led the BJP's charge of graft allegations against the Gehlot government.
In recent times, Meena has been consistently holding press conferences and making claims of alleged corruption by the state government. Central agencies such as the ED have often followed up on his allegations and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has cited this to allege the misuse of investigating agencies by the BJP.
"The rebel candidate has been propped up as a conspiracy at the behest of Gehlot," Kirodi Lal Meena told PTI. He claimed that it would not have any impact as the tribal community was strongly with him.
The closeness of the triangular contest can be judged from the people's reactions, many of whom seemed undecided while others strongly pitched for the victory of the candidate they were supporting out of the three.
"Dr Sahab will be a clear winner. He has said it his last election and that has galvanised people in his corner. He is a messiah for Meenas and though Asha Meena will split some votes, Kirodi Lal ji will sail through as other communities like Brahmans and traditional BJP voters are in his corner," Dharam Singh Rajawat, who owns a travel agency in the central part of the city, told PTI.
Echoing similar views, taxi driver Pukhraj Meena said the BJP MP is a veteran and has the support of Meenas while Asha Meena is there to damage him but would not make a significant impact. However, many people pointed out that Asha Meena has a strong clout in the area and is very much in the reckoning.
"She will definitely garner a lot of votes. It is very close here and all the three candidates have a chance. Even sitting Congress MLA has done good work, he can also get re-elected," Pawan Meena, a paan shop owner said.
Muslims seem to be more or less in Abrar's corner with only a minuscule minority talking about the AIMIM candidate and another Muslim independent, who is the son of a former MLA from here.
"Danish has done a lot of work. Muslims are supporting him and many Scheduled Castes also. Developmental work has been carried out," a battery auto rickshaw driver said.
Many locals say though the sitting MLA has carried out a lot of development work, caste equations come into play during elections.
The political tension is palpable here with all three candidates seeming strong and for once the people here seem to be discussing the close electoral contest rather than the usual daily topic of discussion in which zone of the reserve was tiger sighted.
In the elections held on this seat from 1972 to 2018, the Congress was the winner four times and the BJP three times.
Apart from this, independent candidates have also won twice and the Janata Dal and Janata Party have won once each.
Rajasthan goes to polls on November 25 and the results will be declared on December 3.