Battle Royale: Diya Kumari in Rajsamand

Diya Kumari, 48, member of the erstwhile royal family of Jaipur and former MLA of Sawai Madhopur, has been fielded by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Rajsamand.

Despite being a Rajput stronghold, she is considered an ‘outsider’ in Rajsamand for hailing from a different Rajput sub-caste. Kshatriya Mahasabha, a local Rajput organisation, has reportedly opposed Kumari’s candidature stating that her ancestors were involved with Akbar during the Haldighati battle, and hence, cannot be considered as their own. Nevertheless, the former princess has secured the backing of sitting Rajsamand MP Hariom Singh Rathore and members of other royal families of Mewar.

“Hariom Singh Rathore is a very prominent face in this area. In addition to this, there is support from (former Home Minister) Gulab Chand Kataria,” said a Rajasthan-based political analyst. Meanwhile, Rathore hasn’t been out on campaigns with Diya Kumari due to health issues.

Kumari is also facing intra-party conflicts. Former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje was reportedly not in favour of Kumari getting a ticket. While Kumari had officially stated personal reasons for not contesting the recently held state assembly elections, sources within the party claimed that Raje played a key role in denying her a ticket; the Sawai Madhopur ticket was instead offered to a nominee of Gujjar leader Kirori Lal Bainsla.

“Vasundhara Raje and the erstwhile royal family of Jaipur had got into a tussle over encroachment of Rajmahal Palace, one of the properties of the royal family in 2016. Kumari’s mother, Rajmata Padmini Devi had taken out a huge procession against Raje in its wake. The soured relation in its aftermath reportedly came in the way of Raje renominating Kumari from Sawai Madhopur during the last assembly elections. She also tried her best to scuttle Kumari’s chances of getting a ticket for the Lok Sabha elections but the writ of the High Command could not be challenged,” said Sangeeta Sharma, a Rajasthan-based political analyst.

Interestingly, Raje had tried to push for Bhanwar Singh Palara, husband of Sushil Kanwar, MLA from Masuda in Rajsamand in place of Diya Kumari, sources said.
Sharma further stated that apart from the caste and royalty factors, BJP wants to play on the woman factor. “There are only three women candidates including Diya Kumari out of the 25 seats in Rajasthan,” Sharma said.

Modi magic lingers on

The effect of the ‘Modi Wave’ lingers on in this part of the country. The supporters are not too keen on knowing the local candidate and their achievements but are ready to support BJP only because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enduring appeal.

“The BJP’s narrative of hyper-nationalism is getting traction and Narendra Modi retains his appeal. Moreover, many people, especially youngsters, swear by Narendra Modi. They are not really taken in by Diya Kumari. Kumari would not have mattered so much had Modi not been there,” said Narpat Singh, a resident of Rajsamand after attending a BJP rally. In addition to this, Sangh Parivar organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are working on the ground for the BJP.

Nationalism and Army

Kumari never forgets to mention the sacrifices and bravery of her late father during her rallies–in an apparent bid to take the BJP’s nationalism narrative forward. Her father, Bhawani Singh, was a Brigadier in the Indian Army. Her stock line during rallies is –Main ek sainik ki beti hun – as she weaves her speech around stories of air strikes undertaken by her father in Pakistan. The princess and fellow party members leave no stone unturned to ensure that the recent Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot air strikes remain etched in people’s memory.

Kumari’s father, Bhawani Singh, had served as the commanding officer of 10 Para Commandos during the 1971 Indo-Pak war that led to the birthing of Bangladesh. He was awarded with the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest gallantry award of the country, for capturing Charcho and Virawah in Sindh. Bhavani Singh had also unsuccessfully contested the 1989 general elections. If Kumari wins, she would be the second MP from her family. Maharani Gayatri Devi, Kumari’s grandmother, was the first member of the erstwhile royal family of Jaipur to win Lok Sabha elections in 1962, 1967, and 1971.

Weak opposition

Although Congress candidate Devkinandan Gurjar has the advantage of being a local, he is not considered to have a lot of appeal. “Gurjar is probably the weakest candidate fielded by Congress in Rajasthan. He is not expected to win,” another political analyst said. Gurjar had unsuccessfully contested the assembly elections in 2013 losing to the BJP’s Kalyan Singh Chauhan from the Nathdwara seat. He has also been the party’s district president.

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