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Will Gehlot magic work in Rajasthan?

May 1, 2009 20:10 IST

Image: Ashok Gehlot addresses a poll meet in Jodhpur
Prasanna D Zore and photographer Rajesh Karkera set out to discover the Rajasthan chief minister's strategy to erase the humiliation of four years ago.

Ashok Gehlot is a man on a mission.

"After delivering the state to his party in the assembly election, Gehlot now wants to complete the whitewash by winning more than 20 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan," says former councilor Vikram Singh Gehlot.

In the 2004 general election, the Congress won just four of Rajasthan's 25 Lok Sabha seats. "The BJP may face the same fate this time," feels Vikram Singh.

It is the 2004 defeat that the Rajasthan chief minister is trying to reverse by campaigning extensively throughout the state.

Last Monday he addressed almost seven road shows in Jodhpur and as many on Tuesday with his first meeting scheduled as early as 7 am.

Congress candidate Chandresh Kumari is locked in a direct fight with the Bharatiya Janata Party's Jaswant Singh Bishnoi in Jodhpur, which has over 1.5 million voters and eight assembly constituencies.

It was even stevens in Jodhpur for the Congress and BJP in the November 2008 assembly election. Luni, Pokhran, Phalodi and Sardarpura (from where Ashok Gehlot was elected) fell into the Congress kitty while the BJP bagged Jodshah, Sursagar, Lohawat and Shergarh.

Gehlot is a shrewd tactician

Image: Chandresh Kumari, the Congress candidate, gets a traditional welcome at Jodhpur.

The Congress appears to be heading for victory in Jodhpur with Maharaja Gaj Singh -- Chandresh Kumari's younger brother who the area's people respectfully call Baapji -- throwing his weight behind the party.

Gaj Singh, interestingly, was said to be a BJP supporter till his sister was picked by Ashok Gehlot as the Congress candidate from Jodhpur.

Married into Himachal Pradesh royalty, Chandresh Kumari was thrice elected a Congress MLA in that state and also served as a minister.

"Ashok Gehlot is a shrewd tactician. He realises the importance of winning the Jodhpur seat and pressed for Chandresh Kumari despite opposition from the party leadership. With Maharaja Gaj Singh canvassing for his sister, there is no way the BJP's Jaswant Singh can win," feels Liaquat Ali, vice-president of the Congress party's minority cell.

"Chandresh Kumari's presence will ensure that Rajput votes (approximately numbering 257,000 in this constituency) will tilt towards her," says Liaquat Ali.

Add to that, 190,000 Muslim votes and 298,000 scheduled caste and tribe voters who have traditionally voted Congress, and Chandresh Kumari may be home and dry.

Jaswant Singh is from the Bishnoi community and can perhaps count on the support of this constituency's 116,000-odd Bishnoi voters.

Gehlot plays the visionary

Image: Kumari along with a Congress supporter
In another dexterous move, Ashok Gehlot, in his bid to strengthen his relationship with the powerful royal family, made sure the prime minister travelled to Jodhpur earlier this week to canvass votes for Chandresh Kumari.

Besides, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi will campaign extensively across Rajasthan on May 3 and 4, visiting Barmer, Jhalawar, Banswara, Jaipur, Shahpura, Ajmer, Bhilwara and Alwar.

"This will not only enhance his (the chief minister's) stature further, but will also help the party expand its support base," believes Jodhpur resident Surendra Nag.

"With support from Gehlotji and Baapji, there is no way Bailalji (locals call Chandresh Kumari Bailalji or elder sister) will not break the BJP's monopoly in Jodhpur this time around," says Shyam Ahuja, a Sindhi resident of the city's Housing Board Colony.

Around 100,000 Sindhis live in the Jodhpur Lok Sabha constituency and will play a key role in deciding the winner, believes Ahuja.

Most Sindhis, he adds, consider Gehlot a dynamic leader who has the vision to bring more investment and industries to Rajasthan.

Gehlot plays the role of visionary to the hilt at public meetings. At one such meeting in the plush Housing Board Colony, the chief minister says solving Rajasthan's water problems, infrastructural bottlenecks, expanding the broad gauge rail network and bringing industries to Jodhpur and Rajasthan are top on his agenda.

Women voters happy with Gehlot

Image: Gehlot at a poll meet
One of the first things Gehlot did after winning power last November was pass legislation that bans the sale of liquor in the state after 8 pm.

8 se 8 office wale jeene dete nahin aur 8 ke baad Gehlotji peene dete nahi (Our menfolks's bosses don't let them breathe easy from 8 am to 8 pm and Gehlot's ban on the sale of liquor keeps them away from mischief after 8 pm) is a ditty we heard in Jodhpur.

Ashok Gehlot may be on a winning track and could deliver much needed seats to the Congress in Rajasthan.