JAIPUR/UDAIPUR/CHITTORGARH : On a scorching April afternoon, Sunita Goswami accompanies her husband and mother-in-law to the Ganesh temple in Moti Doongri in Jaipur. Her face covered by a ghoonghat, she speaks in hushed tones—until it comes to matters of the country.

“There is only one man to support—Prime Minister Modi. Nobody else has responded to terror within 10 days the way he did. That is the way it should be. Congress has never done this. It has always played the blame game. Modi was the one to say the attacks came from that side," said Goswami, a postgraduate, referring to the recent Pulwama attacks and the Balakot strikes that followed.

This has been the main focus of the election campaign in the state, which is a direct contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. At rallies in Rajasthan, Modi has been highlighting the failure of the Congress to take action against Pakistan. The government’s response coupled with Modi’s popularity in the state seem to give the BJP the edge. The Lok Sabha elections come less than six months after the assembly elections, which Congress won after a fierce contest.

The Congress campaign, on the other hand, is banking on the work of the state government, which included promises of a farm loan waiver and an unemployment allowance to youth. The party is also talking about its minimum income support scheme, NYAY. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been focussing on the work the party plans to do for the poor and farmers.

The stakes are high in Rajasthan, the largest state in terms of area, which has 25 Lok Sabha seats. Thirteen of these seats vote on Monday and the rest in the next phase on 6 May.

In the 2014 general election, BJP managed to win all 25 seats, as well as gain a vote share of 55.6%, its highest in over two decades. The difference in vote shares between the two parties has usually been minimal in the last few Lok Sabha elections.

In the recent assembly elections, though Congress managed a majority in the 200 seat assembly, the difference in vote share between the parties was just 0.5%.

“People were angry with Vasundhara Raje and her policies. This election has nothing to with that. In six months, the Congress has failed to deliver on any of its promises. How can we believe they will deliver on a new set of promises," asked Gajendra Shekhawat, who runs a furniture store in Chittorgarh.

Though the state voted former chief minister Vasundhara Raje out, Modi continues to be a popular leader in the state.

His active presence on social media platforms has given urban youth a sense that Modi is the reason their cities are cleaner, roads smoother and the metro rail running in some parts. Files don’t remain buried in government offices and the government takes bold decisions, they believe.

“He is a sher neta. No one else had the strength to take such risky decisions. His government’s decisions are bold, whether demonetization, GST (goods and services tax) or the way we dealt with Pakistan after the Pulwama attacks," said Bharat Telli, 18, a first-time voter from Ghagounda in Udaipur.

“We need a leader who can take matters into his hands, otherwise we will lose the nation to terror forces," said Shyam Sunder, a store owner in Jaipur.

There are some who say national security should not be an election issue. “This election is not being fought on the right issues. The security of the nation is not what elections are about," said Bhupendra Singh, a 23-year-old postgraduate student from Udaipur.

In the seats that vote on Monday, the key candidates include Vaibhav Gehlot, son of chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who is contesting on a Congress ticket from Jodhpur against Union minister and BJP candidate Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

Both parties are trying to woo farmers. According to a NITI Aayog report, two-thirds of the population in Rajasthan is dependent on agriculture. One of the key promises made by the Congress government ahead of the assembly elections was a loan waiver. However, it is being compared to the central government’s PM-Kisan scheme.

“When it came to getting votes, they made big promises of giving farm loan waivers. In reality, the state government has given only waivers of 5,000-10,000 to just a few people. The central government scheme was more realistic and the first instalment of 2,000 has come to people’s accounts," said Mohan Lola, a farmer in Laxmipura Barari village in Chittorgarh.

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