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|November 28, 1998||
Congress workers proclaim victory in the streets
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Jaipur
The mood at the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee headquarters was upbeat with reports that the party is leading in 147 of the 200 assembly seats in the state, an advantage of 63 seats over the 1993 results.
RPCC president Ashok Gehlot and senior Congressman Ghulam Nabi Azad were surrounded by workers bursting crackers and distributing luddoos to passers-by on Sansar Chander Road, Police Lane, Jaipur.
Azad told Rediff On The NeT: "Looking at this trend we expect to win 130 seats."
Gehlot, one of the party's chief ministerial candidates, was busy on his mobile phone, receiving congratulatory messages. Simultaneously, he was keeping an eye on the television set installed nearby, jotting down the latest party positions.
Dressed in starched kurta pyjamas, Gehlot was also meeting supporters by the droves from all parts of Rajasthan. Everyone was being allowed into his room, with no guards to obstruct them.
"I told you we will win a majority easily and the rebels won't be an important factor," Gehlot told Rediff On The NeT.
The BJP was banking on the presence of nearly 46 Congress rebels in the fray. But early trends showed not more than eight Independents in the lead.
Admitting defeat, state BJP president Raghuvir Singh Kaushal said, "The temporary inflation in prices of onions and potatoes made us lose this election as the people have voted anti-establishment and not for the Congress rebels as we had expected."
There were just 10 people at the BJP headquarters, Kaushal and general secretary Om Prakash Mathur being two of them. They were sipping hot tea and watching a small black and white television.
Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was believed to be in the chief minister's official residence, refusing to see anyone. But he owned moral responsibility for the party's rout, and attributed it to the government's failure to control the price rise.
Ideologue K N Govindacharya, who had been sent to mastermind the party's campaign had left Jaipur, and not a single central BJP leader is in Rajasthan.
Outside, a tea vendor, Babulal, said: "Sir, aap paanch saal pehle aate to BJP office ke baahar dhamaka dekhte, aaj to yahaan kutta bhi nahin ghoom raha hai. Sub log sharam ke mare apne ghar baithe hain. (You should have seen the show they put on five years ago. Today they are all hiding in shame.)"
Asked how many seats the BJP would win, Kaushal said, "Looking at this trend we think we will not win more than 60." He claimed that the voters had ignored the good work his party had done in the last eight years and voted against it only on the issue of onions and potatoes.
Mathur, however, was still hopeful of a change in the trend after 1800 hours.
Congressman Azad said the BJP was always strong in the cities and weak in villages. But this time the BJP had lost ground in the cities as well. "A Muslim candidate, Thakiyuddin Ahmed, defeated the BJP in its stronghold of Johri Bazaar in Jaipur. This proves that even hard-core BJP supporters are upset with its rule," he said.
But the Congress is still not giving a clear signal on who the next chief minister will be.
Though Gehlot is the party's most popular politician in the state, he faces competition from leader of the Opposition Parasram Maderna, former Union minister Nawal Kishore Sharma, and former chief minister Shiv Charan Mathur.
Asked when he would take charge as CM, Gehlot smiled: "It's up to the high command and the Congress legislators to decide. I am still waiting for the final results."
In the streets of Jaipur, Congress workers were moving around in autorickshaws and cycle-rickshaws proclaiming the BJP's defeat. Newspaper vendors too were shouting out the defeat to attract readers.
The Rajasthan Election Commission has set up Intranet services and television sets at nine major squares in the capital, and people were flocking to see the updates on the huge screens.
The first five results came in from the constituencies where electronic voting took place -- Ajmer East, Ajmer West, Hawa Mahal, Kishan Pole and Johri Bazaar. Of these, only Hawa Mahal went the BJP way.
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