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Om Birla faces Raje loyalist in Kota

Om Birla is known for his expertise in election management and has a well-organised management team backing him.

om birlaJAIPUR: The poll battle in Kota-Bundi Lok Sabha constituency in Rajasthan has drawn attention as Speaker Om Birla of the BJP is contesting against Congress candidate Prahlad Gunjal.

Gunjal, who was a loyalist of former CM Vasundhara Raje, switched allegiance from the BJP to Congress two months ago. Local residents say the intensity of the contest this time was absent in Kota-Bundi seat in the past 15 years. The interest in this election has surged following lower voter turnout in the first phase of polling.

Muslims form the largest group with approximately 2.70 lakh voters, followed by Meena voters at 2.25 lakh. Gunjal hails from the Gurjar caste, which accounts for around 1.90 lakh voters in the constituency. Traditionally Gurjars have been supporters of the BJP.

Om Birla is known for his expertise in election management and has a well-organised management team backing him. His gentle and approachable manner is helping him strike a chord with voters. “Furthermore, Birla enjoys backing from both state and national BJP organizations,” an analyst said. “As the Lok Sabha Speaker, he has a strong presence in each assembly area and he benefits from a robust social media team,” the analyst said.

Birla also faces challenges. He is often perceived as the same face being presented repeatedly, which could affect voter enthusiasm, another analyst said. “BJP’s loss of four assembly seats in the 2023 elections has also been a point of criticism for Birla,” he said.

The opposition has targeted him on issues related to corruption in airports. Gunjal’s candidacy poses a risk of Gurjar voters’ shift to the Congress. Gunjal enjoys party workers’ confidence and employs an aggressive campaigning style.

He has solid backing from the Congress organization and has the potential to shift a significant BJP vote bank in his favour, analysts say. As a first-time Lok Sabha poll candidate, he arouses people’s expectations. Additionally, Gunjal has strong support from his Gurjar community and Muslim voters. Gunjal’s decision to join the Congress has also been a point of criticism.

There have been defections of Congress workers to the BJP, particularly Gurjar supporters of Gunjal. Additionally, Gunjal has a limited social media campaign team and a shorter campaign period compared to Birla. Gunjal has faced defeats in two consecutive assembly elections, which could be a cause for concern among voters, analysts say.

The campaign strategies employed by Om Birla and Gunjal display distinct approaches. Birla predominantly targets urban voters, emphasising ‘Modi Guarantees’. He asserts that the PM’s leadership is the pivotal issue in this election, and his victory in Kota will ensure a third term for Modi. He highlights Ram Temple as a significant achievement.

Gunjal says Birla’s overreliance on Modi reveals his lack of tangible accomplishments despite serving as Kota MP for a decade. He focuses on rural areas, meets voters personally, and alleges Birla’s team intimidates voters and misuses administration. Gunjal has lodged multiple complaints with the EC, claiming his activities are being monitored by drones.

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