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|September 11, 1999||
The writing is on the wall for Wodeyar
Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar received a piece of good news on Wednesday. A state government official, he was told, was at the door of his fantastic palace in Mysore, to hand over a cheque of Rs 200,000 as royalty for items used in last year's Dasara festivities.
But it's been mostly bad news for the last scion of the Mysore royal family, in the run-up to a make or break election, in his short but spectacularly messed-up political career. Fifteen years and two parties later, "Mr Wodeyar" doesn't know if he's coming or going in politics.
First, the Congress delayed confirming his nomination for days on end, although "palace sources", which usually means him, were telling all and sundry that he would get the ticket. Then, his campaign launch got delayed by a day due to a sore throat.
Then, a party worker was stabbed to death. Then, he was hooted and shouted down at an election meeting. Then, there was only so much he was allowed to walk each day because of the fragility of his feet. Then, there were the usual problems that the son of a king has when he has to go to the people and ask them for his votes.
And then, of course, is the Bharatiya Janata Party.
It was so smooth and sweet when Mr Wodeyar made his debut in 1984. Indira Gandhi had been gunned down, Rajiv Gandhi invited him to take the plunge, and 54 per cent of Mysoreans showed that they were four-square behind their prince.
Mr Wodeyar won again in 1989 by a huge margin of 200,000 votes, but it's been mostly downhill since. He left the party in a huff and joined the BJP in a hurry and was trounced by 16,000 votes by the late Devaraj Urs's daughter, Chandra Prabha Urs, in 1991.
Sufficiently disgusted with the BJP's tactics, he rejoined the Congress in 1996 and scraped through by 11,000 votes. But health problems, chiefly to do with his feet which have to bear the weight of his huge frame, prevented him from entering the fray in 1998.
Circa '99: Wodeyar can only hope for good luck, on top of the charisma of the royal family if he wants to put it across the BJP. In fact, he must simply hope for good luck because the BJP has recorded a 92 point rise in its poll percentage since 1996.
The BJP, which polled just 21.92 per cent of the votes in the '96 elections, polled an astonished 42.09 per cent of the votes in 1998. The Congress on the other hand has slipped, and slipped rapidly from 34.82 per cent votes in 1996 to 29.91 per cent in 1998.
Clearly, the writing is on the wall for Wodeyar. The Congress did not win even one of Mysore's three assembly seats in 1994. The BJP won all three and in 1998, its Lok Sabha candidate C H Vijashankar beat the Congress nominee by over 100,000 votes, with phenomenal leads in all three assembly segments.
Wodeyar's re-entry into the arena may make things slightly difficult for the BJP, but how much, considering that he last won the seat by a mere 11,000 votes? As it is, the impression persists that the prince entered politics only to sort out his tax problems, and that the wellbeing of citizens was last on his mind.
The BJP, on the other hand, is seen to be a more accessible party, its MPs and MLAs in greater touch with the people, and is seen to be a party with a future. Sonia Gandhi flew into town for Wodeyar's benefit but he may soon come to realise that in a city fast losing touch with its past, royal charm alone may not prove sufficient.
And then again, when you hear people like Life Insurance Corporation of India employee Veer Shetty say, "What is this Mr Wodeyar is doing, folding hands and pleading before us, when we should be doing so before him," you wonder.
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