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|February 14, 1998|
Constituency Profile/Bikaner, Rajasthan
Jakhar's stature against BJP's support
Bikaner has all the portents of a Titanic contest between stature and support as it goes to the polls on Monday, February 16. Former Union minister Balram Jakhar (Congress) will pit his stature against the support of former Rajasthan irrigation minister Dev Singh Bhati.
Jakhar, twice Lok Sabha speaker, was shifted from the Sikar to Bikaner, the second-largest constituency spread over four districts and bordering Pakistan. His main opponents are Dev Singh Bhati's son, sitting MP and BJP nominee Mahendra Singh Bhati, and Communist Party of India-Marxist candidate Sheopat Singh.
Jakhar was elected to the Lower House from Sikar in Rajasthan in 1984 and 1991. In 1989, he was drubbed by former deputy prime minister Devi Lal in Sikar and was denied a Congress ticket in 1996 following his indictment in the hawala scandal.
He was keen on contesting from Sikar this time too, but was instead nominated from Bikaner. He had won the Ferozepur seat in Punjab in 1980.
Jakhar is camping in Bikaner with several hundred of his supporters from Punjab. His three sons -- former Punjab minister Sajjan Jakhar, Indian Farmers and Fertilisers Corporation chairman Surendra Jakhar and Sunil Jakhar -- spearhead the campaign.
Dev Singh Bhati, who was sacked from the Bhairon Shekhawat cabinet recently, has considerable clout in the area. He has held the Kolayat assembly seat in the district for four successive terms since 1980. His son Mahendra bagged the Bikaner seat for the first time in 1996, defeating his Congress rival Manphool Singh Bhadu by over 31,000 votes.
The CPI-M contestant, Sheopat Singh, won the seat in 1989 as a joint Opposition candidate. He had filed his papers in 1996, but later withdrew in favour of the Janata Dal nominee. There are seven other candidates, including the Samajwadi Party's Shyam Lal and the Bahujan Samaj Party's Dilip Marwah.
Jakhar and Bhati are beset by similar problems, particularly intra-party squabbles. Bhadu was keen on a ticket and now nurses a grouse. Many local party workers absented themselves from the Jakhar campaign, after finding themselves ignored by the campaigners from outside the state.
In the BJP's case, Mahendra Bhati will suffer from the sharp political differences that exist between his father and Chief Minister Shekhawat's son-in-law, Narpat Singh Rajvi. A legislator, Rajvi hails from Bikaner district.
A candidate's stature matters in Bikaner, which returned its former maharaja, Dr Karni Singh, to the Lok Sabha as an Independent for five consecutive terms from 1952 to 1971. In 1977, Sheopat Singh's father Hari Ram (Bharatiya Lok Dal) was elected while Bhadu (Congress) won the 1980, 1984 and 1991 elections.
Of the eight assembly segments in the constituency, five are held by the BJP and the rest by the Congress. However, one BJP legislator has quit his party to join the Congress.
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