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|February 12, 1998|
Will Chittorgarh be Jaswant Singh's Haldighati?
Jaswant Singh, the old warhorse of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and a veteran of many political battles, is finding the going somewhat tough in Chittorgarh in Rajasthan. The reason: A combination of factors, including anti-incumbency sentiments against the Bhairon Singh Shekhawat government
Upsetting the BJP applecart and giving Singh, a former army major, sleepless nights is a relatively unknown Congress nominee, Udailal Anjana.
Chittorgarh reeks of history. It was the capital of the Sisodia Rajputs, whose most famous king, Maharana Pratap, is remembered for his gallant resistance to the Mughals. In a heroic battle at Haldighati, a valley near Chittorgarh, Emperor Akbar's mighty forces defeated Rana Pratap's army in April 1576, and conquered most of Pratap's territories. Akbar had captured Chittor a few years earlier.
There are seven contestants in the fray, but it will be a straight fight between Singh and Anjana. Vigorous campaigning by both parties has, however, failed to enthuse voters in the constituency, which is dominated by the farming community.
Election fervour appears to be missing and meetings are not attracting large crowds, despite the presence of Singh, finance minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. The BJP is trying to cash in on Singh's stature as a national leader, who is likely to be the country's finance minister if the BJP comes to power.
As far as posters, banners and flags are concerned, the Congress stole a march over the BJP with pictures of Sonia Gandhi and the Congress nominee plastered at many places.
In the face of stiff competition, Singh is leaving no stone unturned to retain the seat, which he won by about 47,000 votes last time.
In 1996, he defeated Gulab Singh Shektawat, a Rajput. This time, the Congress, in a clever move, fielded Anjana, a farmer and member of the Rajasthan assembly from Nimbahera.
Local people told a visiting correspondent that hitherto, it had always been a Rajput-versus-Rajput contest and they had had little option but to choose the best between them. But this time, the contest is between a Rajput and a farmer, and anything can happen.
The caste factor will no doubt play a critical role in this sprawling constituency with an electorate of 1,200,000. There are about 100,000 Muslim voters and both the Congress and the BJP are doing everything to woo them.
Jaswant Singh, despite having a good image personally, is attracting popular wrath primarily because of what the people call the state government's non-performance.
"The BJP government has not done anything for the farmers. There is shortage of power and water, and transport charges have skyrocketted,'' a resident of Kapasan, part of the constituency, said.
Asked if he would not like Vajpayee to become the prime minister, he said, ''We are not bothered who becomes the prime minister, we want our representative to solve our problems.''
Yet another complaint against Jaswant Singh is that he does not visit his constituency frequently and has been preoccupied with national issues.
However, the BJP has been trying to rebut all the charges against him as propaganda unleashed by his opponents.
K C Parashar, Jaswant Singh's election agent, says people in the constituency feel proud that they have a leader of national stature contesting from Chittorgarh. He sought to play down the local issues, saying this was an election for the Lok Sabha and not the state assembly. The people, Parashar said, would vote for a candidate who could highlight their problems in Parliament.
At his public meetings, Jaswant Singh has been stressing that he alone could highlight their grievances forcefully in Parliament.
In sharp contrast, the Congress nominee has been focussing on local issues, contending that the developmental activities had come to a grinding halt in the constituency since the BJP came to power in the state.
Anjana has also been telling people that Jaswant Singh is a national leader who would not be with them in their hour of crisis. The Congress says he will be at their beck and call.
What may affect his chances is the infighting in the Congress due to the denial of the party ticket to Nirmala Singh Shaktawat, a former MP. Shaktawat had made a determined bid to get the party ticket. However, the Congress president went strictly by the nomination approved by the Pradesh election committee which forwarded only Anajana's name .
Jaswant Singh appears to be ahead in the Ramganj Mandi, Lodpura and Beghu Chittor assembly segments while Anjana seems to be leading in Kapasan, Barhi Sadri and Nimbahera.
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