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|August 30, 1999||
The Rediff Election Interview/ Ashok Gehlot
'India is the land of Gandhiji and Vinoba Bhave. In such a land, even raising the videshi issue is foolishness'
If there is a man who has every right to look worried, it is Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
Almost everyone seems to be mad at him. The farmers don't like him anymore because of 'inadequate famine relief'. The youth isn't behind him because of the unanswered unemployment question. And state government officials have a moderate to active dislike for him because he lowered their retirement age from 60 to 58.
Then the Jats. This community, Gehlot's backbone in many parts of western Rajasthan, appears powerfully disenchanted with everything Congress apparently because the promise to provide it reservation was not fulfilled.
But if you think Gehlot looks worried, then you have another think coming. Everything is hunky-dory for the Congress in Rajasthan, is his line. After Chindu Sreedharan cooled his heels for over 180 minutes in Jodhpur, mostly in the hot sun, Gehlot granted him a 10-minute shoot-and-scoot interview. As follows:
Eight days since you kicked off your campaign, how do you rate the Congress chances in the state?
We will win well. In 1998 we got 18 seats. We will do better this time. That's definite.
The reason for your confidence?
We have done good work. The electorate is with us.
What about the Jat issue? Haven't they turned against you?
There's no turnaround. The Jat votes we used to get, those are still with us. The BJP Jats, they will vote for the BJP.
That's now what the Jat leaders say. They say they will ensure that the Congress loses.
Arre, you are not understanding. It is the BJP Jats who are saying such things. The Congress Jats will vote for us.
So there's no Jat turnaround as such?
In that case what percentage of the Jat votes will you get this time?
That will be different in different places.
If you were to put a percentage on the total Jat votes, how much would it come to then? 50 per cent? Or more?
Hamare yehan percentage hoti nahin.
There's a belief that the Jats want you out of the chief minister's chair so that they can install one of their own.
(Laughs) I don't want to comment.
About the videshi-bahu factor, considering that Rajasthan is a land of earthy, fiercely independent people, what effect does Sonia Gandhi's foreignness have? Will they accept her?
There will be no problem.
Can you elaborate?
India is the land of Gandhiji and Vinoba Bhave whose slogan was 'Jai Jagat'. In such a land, even raising the videshi issue is foolishness.
What about the anti-incumbency factor? There seems to be a lot of discontent among the people about your government.
Nahi, aise koi baat nahin. Hamare accha government hai.
There's no dissatisfaction among the people? Really?
Yes. There's no discontent among the people.
Okay. In Jodhpur, your hometown, the BJP has a lot going for it -- it has Jat support, it has, though you do not agree, the anti-incumbency factor and it has Jaswant Singh Vishnoi, a candidate who almost won against you. What chances do you give your candidate?
Poonam Chand (Vishnoi, the Congress candidate) jeetenge.
If that is so sure, why did you delay announcing his candidature till the last moment? Is it true that the other names you had in mind refused to accept the ticket since they felt it would be tough to win, and you approached Poonam Chand as the last resort?
The delay does not affect our chances. There was no special reason for the delay, that happens.
Gehlot walks out to meet his supporters. He is followed by a Congress functionary, who adds over his shoulder: "There were so many candidates that we had to discuss a lot before we could decide..."
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