Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Minister of State for Agriculture and Family Welfare in the Narendra Modi Cabinet, is the sitting Member of Parliament from Jodhpur. His challenger in 2019 is Vaibhav Gehlot, son of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, a former five-time MP of Jodhpur. Shekhawat won the previous Lok Sabha Elections from here in 2014 with a 4 lakh-plus margin, on the back of the “Modi wave”. Shekhawat, in an interview with The Kochi Post talks about the Modi Wave, the issues facing Jodhpur and the battle at hand.
You are the sitting MP from Jodhpur having won the 2014 elections with a huge margin. How is this election different from 2014?
In 2014, people were looking up to Narendra Modi with a ray of hope. Now people are looking up to him with renewed confidence after he delivered. Moreover, I feel people’s affection towards him has only grown with time.
You had won with the highest margin in the country in the last election. Is there any pressure on account of that?
There is great enthusiasm, even more than I had ever imagined. Only issue is, we are contesting against the state government. The entire state machinery is being misused and abused to get the ‘son’ elected.
Do you see Vaibhav Gehlot as a threat?
He doesn’t have an identity of his own. He cannot even name five villages of Jodhpur and mark them on the map. He is absolutely raw and wants to ride on the shoulders of his father. I am pitted against the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. Had he come alone, I would not have had to go anywhere for campaigning.
Congress claims to be fighting against Modi and not the local candidate. What are your thoughts on that?
Everyone is fighting against Modi. The reputation of the country has grown worldwide under the premiership of Modi. Modi is the common factor. Modi means his image, his credibility, his work, and the confidence that he has won over. All of us are proud of that.
BJP recently lost the state assembly polls in Rajasthan. How will it impact the Lok Sabha elections?
It will not have any impact on the current Lok Sabha elections. The state election result was based on different factors. There was anti-incumbency. The entire media was against us. Even in that situation, the vote percentage difference between the BJP and the Congress was only 0.5 per cent. We lost merely by one lakh thirty thousand votes, which corresponds to three votes per polling station.
What are the major issues in Jodhpur?
Development is always an issue. The drinking water supply is an issue. Though it is a common problem across the country, it is a priority here. It is also a part of the BJP’s election manifesto.
How do you plan to maintain the caste equations?
We don’t have to maintain it. I have a very organic connect with the people of Jodhpur.
What are your key promises for Jodhpur in this election?
Jodhpur is a vast constituency. When we talk about the city per se, we had a study done which concluded that most industrialisation happened near areas with sea ports. Rajasthan has everything land, electricity etc…. Now, with Narmada Canal connectivity, we also have water. We have both labour as well as industrialists among the people. There is huge scope for industrialisation. The only thing which is not there is port access. Building a 370 km canal from Rann of Kutch can change the face of entire Western Rajasthan. This is my ambitious plan.
Former chief minister Vasundhara Raje has often been charged with step-motherly treatment for Jodhpur. Is that correct?
The allegation against Vasundhara Raje in Jodhpur’s context can be levelled against Ashok Gehlot for the entire state beyond this city of Jodhpur. He can be blamed for not doing anything in Jhalawar, Udaipur, Banswara, among other regions. Anybody can level such allegations. Ashok Gehlot gave a step-fatherly treatment to several districts. BJP always believes in sabka sath (welfare for all). Congress looks at the vote bank before bringing out any order. We believe that every man should have a roof over his head. Every village, whether it supports the BJP or not, should have a senior secondary school. Congress government will never do that.
You have been MoS Agriculture. What do you think about the loan waiver promises by Congress?
The loan waiver promise will prove to be suicidal for them. They had announced complete loan waiver across the state. They promised to do it the day after the results of the state assembly elections were announced. Then they took a U-turn and said they’ll only waive off loans up to 2 lakh. The day after their swearing-in, they announced they’ll only waive off loans from cooperatives. Then they declared they’ll only help the defaulters. This is because Vasundhara Raje had already waived off loans up to Rs 50,000 during her previous tenure. There was no defaulter. They virtually did not waive off any loan in Rajasthan. BJP’s promise has been implemented 100 per cent on the ground. We have waived off loans to the tune of 9,000 crore.
Do you think the promise to solve unemployment and the NYAY manifesto is a threat for the BJP?
After the failure of the loan waiver scheme, no one is taking Congress seriously. Poor people in the villages also laugh when we talk about the Rs 72,000 NYAY scheme.
What are your challenges and threats?
I don’t think there are any threats. I think there are hurdles being created through the misuse of government machinery and power.
You have recently been given a notice by Election Commission for threatening a local police officer?
The Model Code of Conduct for election expenditure is applicable on a candidate from the day he/she files the nomination. About 20 days before I filed my nomination, I received two notices from the Election Commission about my expenditure. My booth level workers with zero criminal charges are being called to the police station and harassed. The officer who I am being charged with threatening is working as an agent of the Congress. He behaved in a similar manner during the assembly elections.
Do you think there is a Modi wave this election?
The Modi wave is bigger than it was during the 2014 elections. For youngsters and elderly people with no political biases –they only take Modi’s name. If you want to keep the nation secure, you need Modi.