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November 20, 1998


Bali looks back in anger at Shekhawat's tenure

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Bali

Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is facing rough weather in Bali, where he is pitted against two formidable opponents, the Congress's Umed Singh Champawat and former legislator and Bharatiya Janata Party rebel Amrit Parmar.

The popular mood in Bali is so anti-establishment that Shekhawat has undertaken a hectic campaign, addressing at least seven meetings a day. His aides say he kicked off the intensive part of electioneering soon as news reached him that he was facing an uphill task.

Contrast this with the fact that in the previous assembly elections, Shekhawat had been to his constituency for campaigning only thrice, and still managed to win by more than 10,000 votes.

But this time, after the BJP's miserable performance in Rajasthan during the February Lok Sabha elections, he is going all-out to woo back his voters.

What has peeved the voters of Bali is that Shekhawat visited his constituency only thrice in the last five years, and had entrusted the responsibility of managing the seat to two of his cronies, Jaipal Singh Jodha and Om Prakash Mathur, the BJP's Rajasthan general secretary.

The people are said to be irked by the obvious cronyism indulged in by Shekhawat, which they complain has reached such levels that his aides act as local bosses and interfere in even day-to-day matters.

"They are acting as mini-CMs. And Shekhawat has done nothing to keep a check on their activities," says a local journalist.

Besides infighting in the BJP, the Congress is banking on two factors: the anti-incumbency mood, and public ire at soaring prices.

Says Arun Kumar Chaudhary, chief election agent of Umed Singh, "Half our battle was won when Parmar decided to contest the elections. Even traditional Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers are supporting him rather than Shekhawat."

Apparently, rebel leader Parmar is so popular that many traditional supporters of the BJP and even RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad members are sympathising with him. They feel that the BJP has neglected Parmar and has supported Shekhawat's cronies like Jodha and Mathur who are of no use. Says Ramdas Vaishnav, VHP's Bali president, "Parmar founded the Jan Sangh in Bali. And I cannot tolerate the fact that Shekhawat's cronies are making hay when our CM has not even bothered to visit his constituency."

There are nearly 1,30,000 voters in Bali, of whom nearly 30,000 are schedule castes and 22,000 tribals. There are 13,000 Rajputs, 14,000 Purohits and Brahmins and 12,000 Jains. The rest are OBCs.

Among the major problems faced by the voters are electricity shortage and spiralling prices. There are nearly 180 villages in the constituency, and farmers are facing an acute shortage of power, getting supply for only eight hours a day. Riling the farmers is the fact that the electricity plant in Bali, is supplying power to the neighbouring Sirohi village.

Shekhawat had promised the Bali farmers the last time that he will provide 24-hour power supply, which remains unfulfilled.

Says Pena Ram, from Bhatund village in Bali, "Electricity is one of the major problems faced by farmers and our CM did nothing to help us. So how can we vote for him?"

Bali falls under the Pali parliamentary constituency, where the Congress's Mitha Lal Jain defeated Guman Lal Lodha of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections held eight months ago.

Interestingly, Bali was given to the Janata Dal candidate in 1990, when there was an alliance between the BJP and the JD. At that time too, Parmar had contested as an independent and won by a narrow margin of 183 votes.

Says Santosh Kumar, an RSS worker and a Parmar supporter, "We had proved to the BJP in 1990 itself that we can win the Bali seat. Even if we don't, Shekhawatji will spend sleepless nights before the results come in."

However, the BJP workers feel that neither the rebel factor nor the parliamentary elections result will affect Shekhawat's chances.

According to them, Parmar lost his credibility among the Sangh Parivar workers after he joined the Shiv Sena some months ago and quit it soon after, dissatisfied with Sena chief Bal Thackeray.

"It's only a myth that the Sangh Parivar members are supporting Parmar," says Ram Swaroop Choudhary, a local BJP leader. "A few disgruntled elements in the BJP who have no say in the party are supporting him."

The BJP is also confident about its traditional voters' loyalty. Besides, Shekhawat's stature makes a lot of difference, his supporters feel.

In the last assembly elections, Shekhawat had contested from Ganganagar as well, where he stood third. His victory in Bali, however, was what got him the chief ministership. But this time round, Parmar's supporters hope to do a Ganganagar on him.

Assembly Election '98

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