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A Rajput storms the BJP fort

Last updated on: April 14, 2014 16:25 IST

A Rajput storms the BJP fort

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

The BJP may have declined him Barmer, but Independent candidate Jaswant Singh doesn't intend to go down without a fight for the seat. His road show on Sunday, in Jaisalmer, showed his resolve, and appeal, reports Rediff.com's Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

On Sunday, Jaswant Singh, the expelled Bharatiya Janata Party veteran, mounted, by all accounts, a never-seen-before show of strength in Jaisalmer, the assembly constituency that is part of the Barmer Lok Sabha seat where he is contesting as an Independent candidate.

His motorcade was by all accounts a regular one till it approached Satyadev park in Jaisalmer, when the crowds simply thronged the jeep he was riding in and went berserk with its sloganeering.

Singh's brief address to the crowds in the small space saw him being rushed from all sides, the kind of adulation that is normally reserved for Bollywood stars. And Sachin Tendulkar.

As his phalanx of protectors escorted him out of the park and on to a camel cart that trundled through the narrow lanes and bylanes of Jaisalmer fort, it was a scene that was to be seen to be believed.

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Image: Jaswant Singh's camel cart winds its way through Jaisalmer.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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"Well, we did share the information that I would be reaching the spot at the said time, but believe me, the turnout and the response were spontaneous," Singh told Rediff.com later at his hotel in the fort town.

His son Bhupendra Singh, who is spearheading his election campaign, said that in all the electioneering so far, Sunday's crowd response was a first.

Both the father and son agreed that it was a reaction to the BJP's decision to field a Congress defector from the Lok Sabha seat, which directly went against the wishes of the people and the party's rank and file. "The response was evidence of that."

The Barmer Lok Sabha seat, the largest in the country and spread over a land mass that is said to be larger than Sri Lanka, extends over eight assembly constituencies, of which seven returned BJP candidates in the December assembly election.

Given that statistic, and the fact that Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia has made it a prestige contest in the border constituency, the going seems tough for Jaswant Singh.

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Image: Jaswant Singh at the rally at Jaisalmer Fort.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

What is indisputable is that Jaswant Singh enjoys tremendous goodwill among the locals. Many speak of him fondly. But will that alone be enough to make the electorate click on the Torch -- Singh's election symbol -- on April 17 is a moot point.

But for Singh, who pleaded with the BJP leadership to be fielded from his home constituency in what could be his last Lok Sabha election, the BJP's, or the Congress's, strengths don't matter.

Or the fact that the caste composition -- always the imponderable in an Indian election -- is stacked against him.

He believes that his appeal transcends considerations of caste and religion.

"You know, the BJP never fielded me from here, I wonder why," Singh told Rediff.com, "Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (the late chief minister of Rajasthan) told me to contest from Jodhpur, then Chittorgarh. Then the BJP sent me to Darjeeling," he says, but never Barmer.

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Image: Jaswant Singh interacts with a supporter.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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What emerges from a conversation with him is that while he was fine with obeying the party orders then, he was not anymore.

Transpose that with what speakers said at Sunday's rally in Jaisalmer fort -- that the present BJP is fake, it came into existence in 2003 (the year that Vasundhara Raje was elected chief minister) -- and you understand the grief of a veteran whose lament went unheard in the party fora.

Meanwhile, "Madam/Vasundhara, teri thanashahi nahi chalegi (Vasundhara, we won't tolerate your dictatorship)," was a popular slogan heard at Sunday's road show.

"Desh ka neta kaisa ho, Jaswantji jaisa ho," was another one that the crowds chanted up with regularity, much to the amusement of the tourists, especially the foreigners, and to the consternation of the locals who found their Sunday routine disrupted by the descent of a 1,000-strong crowd jamming the lanes.

People of all hues, and religious persuasions, halted the camel cart, to offer Singh a garland, apply a tikka, etc. There were Hindus, Muslims, women, men -- the procession made slow time.

Any attempt to storm the vehicle to get closer to Singh would have been futile, the best option being to stick to the sidelines, and speak to the onlookers, not the partisans, about what they thought of Singh.

"Haan, haan, itni bheed toh humne pehle kabhi nahi dekha (I have never seen such crowds before)," said a juice vendor. Will Singh get votes? "Haan, haan, votes toh milni chahiye (He should get votes)."

Will you vote for Jaswant Singh? And he suddenly turns reticent. "Dekhenge, 17 ko dekhenge, aur faisla karenge (I will decide on the 17th)."

That, in a sense, sums up Jaswant Singh's dilemma. He has tremendous regard among the people, no doubt, but ranged against him are not just the BJP's Sona Rama Chaudhary and the Congress's Harish Chaudhary, but Narendra Modi.

"Haan acche hain (He is a good man)," says Jagdish, "par is baar Modi (but this time it is Modi)."

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Image: Jaswant Singh's supporters break into a jig during the Jaisalmer roadshow.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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Out of nowhere pops a man like a messiah, showing the way to avoid the frenzied crowds and to reach the venue of the rally ahead of them. Introducing himself as a Congressman who is on Singh's side, he starts off the conversation on the post-May 16 scenario.

"Modi toh nahin banenge (Modi will not be prime minister)," he avers with the confidence of a seer. Then who else? "Teesri morcha (the Third Front)," he responds -- with Singh at the head.

Even before you can digest this, he posits further. "Zara sochiye (please think), who among the BJP leaders commands respect cutting across party lines? Who else has his stature? Why else do you think the BJP didn't give him a ticket -- you know challenges should be nixed in the bud, right?"

This theory has quite a few takers in the crowd. In fact, one speaker at the rally mentioned it in his speech as well. Jaswant Singh himself appears embarrassed at the suggestion. "Yes, it has come to my notice, too," he told Rediff.com. "But usually when it is said at meetings I reject it right away, today I didn't do it."

The rally that follows at the fort has an array of speakers, from all sections of society. Muslim (many of who are expected to vote for Singh), Dalit (the constituency's largest community), BJP leaders (who denounce the party as fake, while the 'real one', read Singh, was on stage).

Gujarat's Dalit leader Yogendra Makwana, Union minister under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, was the star turn, and spoke warmly of his old ties with Singh.

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Image: Jaswant Singh's camel cart winds its way through the Jaisalmer fort.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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A soupcon of what was said from the stage by various speakers:

"Har har Modi? Yeh toh apman hai (Har Har Modi. This is an insult!)" (this by a Muslim leader).

"Like the Vanara Sena supported Ram, work for Jaswant Singh Jasol."

"When the US imposed sanctions after the 1998 nuclear blasts, Jaswant Singh stared them down."

"The BJP denied him a ticket because they know if they fall short of numbers on May 16, Jaswant Singh can become the consensus choice for PM."

"Jaswant Singh showed courage to go to Kandahar when no one did, to secure the release of the hijack victims."

"Barmer-Jaisalmer ke samrat (the emperor)."

"Sona Ram (the BJP candidate) opposed reservations for SC/STs, do you want to send such a man to Delhi?"

"Modi is the biggest liar. Everyone talks of Goebbels, but I say Modi is the father of Goebbels" (this by Makwana).

"Rescue Sita on the 17th (the day of voting in Barmer)), don't let her be abducted by Ravan."

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Image: The 1000-strong crowd at the Jaisalmer fort rally.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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Unlike Narendra Modi, who can whip up crowd frenzy in no time, Jaswant Singh's speech is measured, and reasonable.

"Why wait for the 17th? Jaisalmer has already voted," he says, moved no doubt by the show of support by the 1,000-strong crowd at the rally.

He may be right, Jaisalmer may indeed have made up its mind.

But the Barmer Lok Sabha constituency has seven other assembly segments, and the election will need to be won there as well.


Image: Jaswant Singh has an emotional moment at the Jaisalmer fort rally.
Photographs: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/Rediff.com

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