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Testing time for Natwar's electoral support base
D K Singh in New Delhi | November 10, 2005 01:37 IST
On Tuesday, as a motley crowd from Rajasthan gathered at K Natwar Singh's residence, the joke doing the rounds at the Congress headquarters was that it constituted the entire electoral base of the former external affairs minister.
Although it came from his detractors in the party, it was difficult to overlook the merit of this joke. Singh's party colleagues in Rajasthan call him a 'paper tiger', whose only strength lies is his proximity to 10, Janpath.
Results of the last few parliamentary elections in Bharatpur constituency are a testimony to the gradual erosion of his political base. He contested 1996 parliamentary elections on Congress (Tiwari) ticket but lost. Although he won the next election in 1998, his son Jagat Singh lost in 1999.
The Congress candidate in the last parliamentary elections, who was believed to be his nominee, fared no better. To make matters worse for Natwar Singh, his bete noire Vishwendra Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party won the last election.
Thanks to his differences with BJP Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, Vishwendra Singh was believed to be eager to join the Congress before the elections but Natwar Singh reportedly thwarted his attempts to protect his turf.
"Had Vishwendra Singh joined the Congress, it would have improved the party's prospect," lamented a Congress leader.
Singh's close aides pointed out that 99 percent of Tuesday's gathering were Jats. But, Singh's projection as a Jat leader does not match the ground reality. There was no Jat leader worth the name during Tuesday's show of strength at the minister's residence.
Obsessed with the 'Jat factor' that was said to be instrumental in the fall of Ashok Gehlot regime in 2003, the party leadership had installed Narayan Singh, a Jat leader with limited electoral base in Sikar and a protégé of Natwar Singh, as the state unit chief.
But the drubbing that the party received in subsequent parliamentary and municipal elections exposed the myth that Natwar Singh or any of his protégés could influence the Jat community, a traditional Congress vote bank, who had switched their loyalty to the BJP after their inclusion in the Other Backward Classes category for reservation benefits in 1999.
Jats have shown little interest in giving the mantle of the community leadership to Singh, however desperate he may be to don it in his hour of crisis.