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|November 17, 1998||
Shekhawat has a fight ahead in Bali
Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is engaged in a proxy war with sitting Congress MP Mitha Lal Jain in Bali, an area dominated by the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in Pali district.
A veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Shekhawat is seeking his 10th term for the assembly, the second successive time from Bali, against Congress nominee Ummed Singh Champawat, BJP rebel Amrit Lal Parmer (independent) and two others. If he wins, the chief minister will equal the record set by his predecessor, the late Harideo Joshi, of winning 10 assembly elections.
Though Joshi of the Congress had won all 10 assembly elections in a row, Shekhawat has tasted defeat once.
However, the key player behind the screen, is reportedly Jain who, before demolishing the stronghold of the ruling party in Pali in the recent Lok Sabha elections, had tasted bitter defeat in the hands of the chief minister in the 1993 assembly elections from Bali.
Jain had defeated former chief justice of the Guwahati high court and sitting MP Guman Mal Lodha (BJP) in the February 1998 Lok Sabha polls to wrest the Pali Lok Sabha seat for the Congress after nine years.
In 1993, Shekhawat kept the Congress camp guessing till the last day of filing nomination and even before the announcement he tactically filed papers from the Johri Bazar assembly constituency in Jaipur.
The Congress had cleared the name of Hanuwant Singh as its candidate for Bali but at the eleventh hour announced Ummed Singh's name instead.
This will be the third time in Shekhawat's career of four decades that he is seeking re-election from the same constituency. He had entered the state legislature in the first general election in 1952, winning the assembly election from Dataramgarh (Sikar).
In 1957, he won the Srimadhopur seat of the same district and the Kishanpol seat of Jaipur in 1962 and 1967. But he lost the election in 1972 from Gandhi Nagar (Jaipur) to Janardhan Singh Gehlot of the Congress.
Shekhawat went to the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh in 1974 and became the first non-Congress chief minister of the state, heading the Janata Party government in 1977.
The Bali constituency is not the bastion of any party. It has so far returned independents on three occasions, Congress nominees four times while the Swatantra Party, the Janata Party and the BJP once each. Of the over 125,000 voters in the constituency, the scheduled tribes constitute the largest group (over 24,000), Rebari (14,000), Rajputs (13,000), Jains (10,000), Rawana Rajputs (7,000) and Janwa Chaudhary (10,000).
Electioneering has so far been on a low note. However, the arrival of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in nearby Pali town on November 13, immediately followed by BJP leader and Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani's visit had brought a momentum to campaigning in this tiny town.
The BJP has set up a well-oiled machinery for its campaign, laying special emphasis on the achievements of the Shekhawat government, particularly for the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes. Party campaign managers are confident of clearing the way for the chief minister without much trouble. Shekhawat is himself criss-crossing the state in a helicopter, trying to drum up support for his party nominees.
Meanwhile, local Congress leaders are working overtime to woo the electorate over, pointing out the sky-rocketing prices of essential commodities. They claim the BJP government failed to deliver the goods and that the chief minister had no time to nurse his constituency. Opposition leaders alleged the BJP's claim about development work has no basis in fact.
Meanwhile, the ruling party leadership has been trying to persuade rebel candidate Amrit Lal Parmer, who held the seat once in 1990, to retire.
Advani, during his visit to Bali on Sunday, had also reportedly tried to contact Parmer, who has been eluding BJP leaders and carrying on his campaign. The Congress camp was also perturbed by the presence of rebel Congressman Jethu Singh. Singh had been beaten by Parmer in 1990 by a narrow margin.
Clearly, Shekhawat has a fight ahead of him this time.
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