Jhunjhunu: Rajasthan Congress chief Chandrabhan is locked in a riveting close contest in Mandawa constituency, making it probably the most keenly watched electoral battle across the state.

The presence of sitting MLA Rita Chaudhary, who turned a rebel after being denied ticket to accommodate the PCC president, in the fray and tangible anger among Jats against the Ashok Gehlot government have added to his woes.

It is almost a do-or-die battle for Chandrabhan in the polls in which his future remains uncertain. He had lost successive electoral battles in 2003 and 2008 and is among the few leaders given the Congress ticket in violation of Rahul Gandhi’s formula that those having lost two consecutive elections would not be made a party candidate.

It is not helping him either that BJP has put up a Muslim candidate, who had fought last elections on BSP ticket and come second. Salim Tanwar is likely to eat into the Congress’ traditional vote bank among Muslims.

“Injustice has been done to that girl (Rita). It is very fluid right now. Only on election eve, we (Jats) will decide whom to support,” says Mayaram Chaudhary, an octogenarian Jat voter.

Jats number over 35 per cent in the electorate which is part of Jhunjhunu district represented by formidable community leader and Cabinet Minister Sisram Ola in Lok Sabha.

Polling in Rajasthan is scheduled on December 1.

In her campaign, Rita reminds sympathetic audience of her father Ram Narayan Chaudhary’s, a seven-time MLA from the seat and former PCC president who died last year, service for the people and how Congress “betrayed her at Ola’s behest”.

“Ola is promoting his family at party’s expense. He wants his son to be his political heir and is harming all those whom he finds inconvenient. Jhunjhunu district results will surprise Congress,” Rita told PTI.

Congress presently holds all but one of the seven seats in the district.

Party sources say it was Ola who persuaded Chandrabhan, who was looking for a safe seat, to pick Mandawa as he wanted to sideline Rita and hoped that the presence of PCC president would neutralise resentment among Jats and consolidate them behind party. Ola’s son Brijendra Singh Ola is fighting from Jhunjhunu constituency.

Chandrabhan had contested long back as an independent from the constituency and bagged only 313 votes, his rivals remind people, branding him as a lightweight with little base of his own.

The PCC president dismisses such criticism and says people of all communities will vote for him.

In an attempt to rally voters around their candidate, local Congress leaders are dropping hints that Chandrabhan could be Chief Minister if the party comes back to power and decides to replace Gehlot, who is not particularly liked by Jats.

“He is state president and a natural claimant for the CM’s post if Congress wins the elections,” a supporter says.

It is though far from clear if voters are buying the argument as yet.

BJP hopes that a likely division in Jat votes would help him scrape through with the support of a section of Muslims.

Rajasthan Assembly has 200 seats.

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