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|February 13, 1998|
The Battle of Bharatpur
R R Nair in Bharatpur
It is battle royal in Bharatpur. In a triangular contest, a scion of the erstwhile princely state of Bharatpur, a former Union minister and a Bharatiya Janata Party leader will thrash it out on February 16. All three are swearing by one community or the other to see them through safely.
Though Congress leader K Natwar Singh is a veteran of many electoral battles, the BJP's Dr Digambar Singh poses a serious threat to him, particularly since the Bharatpur royal family is supporting it. However, the regal Sinsinwar Jat votes are none too safe in the BJP kitty after the entry of Krishnendra Kaur alias Deepa Singh as the Samajwadi Party candidate.
Deepa Singh had won the Bharatpur seat in 1991 on a BJP ticket. In 1996, however, she let cousin Divya, the wife of Bharatpur royal family heir Viswendra Singh, contest the seat. Divya defeated Congressman Tayyab Husain with a margin of around 90,000 votes.
Natwar Singh, who had contested on a Congress (Tiwari) ticket, was a poor third, polling just 76,000 votes.
"But the situation has changed completely. The whole of Mewat voted for the Congress last time. We didn't vote for it (the Congress) because of the badmash (rogue) Narasimha Rao," says the elderly Haji Sardar from Theena Heda, who had travelled to Bharatpur riding pillion on his relative Iqbal Mohammed's motorcycle to see Sonia Gandhi.
The anger at Rao for not protecting the Babri Masjid is no longer there among Bharatpur's Meo Muslims community -- this time around, many would vote for the Congress. That no Meo candidate is contesting is a great advantage for Natwar Singh.
The rugged farmers of this parched Rajasthani village feel that no one else cared for the Muslims the way the Nehru-Gandhi family did.
"Sonia belongs to that family. Moreover, in the last 50 years the Congress has produced a stable government for almost 45 years," said Mohammed.
This feeling is what Natwar Singh capitalises most. "The anti-incumbency feeling," he said, "against Rajasthan's BJP government has been aggravated by the hike in electricity tariff and bus fares."
The BJP, however, has a ready-made counter to that. Local issues, they claim, are not important. "The only issue is to make Atal Bihari Vajpayee prime minister," said Lakshmi Chand Aggarwal, Dr Digambar Singh's election agent.
Averred BJP worker Bhim Singh: "Though Deepa Singh is a member of the royal family, the royal Jat votes would go to Digambar Singh since Viswendra Singh and his cousin Arun Singh are campaigning for the BJP."
Deepa's supporters, for their part, are confident that the very fact that neither Viswendra Singh (who had won the seat in 1989), Arun Singh or Divya is contesting would fetch them all the Jat votes.
"Since Mulayam Singh's tour of the constituency, half the men are with us. The Gujjars and Yadavs will also vote for us as they would follow their leader (Mulayam)," says Ranjit Singh, a close associate of Deepa.
Thus, with the 100,000-odd Jat votes getting split between Digambar Singh and Deepa, diplomat-turned-politician Natwar Singh's best bet is the Muslims and scheduled castes. And his chances in this regard appear to be good.
"When Mayawati was the UP chief minister the party was alive. But now it is not active at all. We will vote for the Congress," said Prem Singh, a Jatav villager.
Natwar Singh's erudition and his vast experience as a diplomat are also pointed out by some as reasons for voting for him.
"After the 1984 riots I had never voted for the Congress. But it is a personal choice as far as Natwar Singh is concerned," said Shamsher Singh, a turbaned Sikh who runs an auto workshop on the city outskirts.
Natwar Singh, the son of a high-ranking official of the Bharatpur royal family, is not a Sinsinwar Jat. Yet the anti-establishment feeling among the upper caste educated and employed youth is sure to help him. At Sonia's Bharatpur rally, he was capitalising on Rajiv Gandhi's name as the leader who gave a message to the youth.
The scheduled castes (21 per cent), Muslims (16 per cent) and Jats (13 per cent) are the dominant communities in Bharatpur. If Sonia sweeps the Meos off with promises of a stable government and security for the minorities, and if the lower castes are as disillusioned with the Kanshi Ram-Mayawati duo as claimed, the Congress would have an advantage.
Brahmins and Vaishyas comprise 18 per cent of the electorate and would be happier with a Brahmin PM: Vajpayee.
When all is said and done, the battle for Bharatpur would, to a large extent, depend on how the regal Sinsinwar votes split.
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