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Pundits in Rajasthan predict close finish

Onkar Singh in Jaipur | November 27, 2003 17:29 IST

Come elections and journalists get into overdrive mode. It is no different in Rajasthan where newspapers and television channels are keeping a hawk's eye on developments.

But they are divided on whether Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot will retain power or his Bharatiya Janata Party rival Vasundhara Raje will pull off an upset.

Rajesh Sharma, editor-in- chief, Rashtradoot, a leading daily in Rajasthan, is sure Gehlot will return to power given his 'slight advantage' over his BJP rival.

But Sukumar Verma, editor of the widely circulated Rajasthan Patrika, is not so sure.

"I would say the Congress, despite losing ground, will get 10 more seats than the BJP and emerge as the single largest party. Even if it does not get a majority on its own the Congress will form the next government with the help of Independents and other parties," predicts Sharma.

Verma, who does not agree with this assessment, says, "The Congress, which had 153 seats in the last assembly, will lose 50, 60 seats. The difference between the Congress and BJP would be a maximum of 10 to 12 seats. The BJP is gaining ground."

Both editors forecast a close finish.

"If Gehlot is losing ground it is because of resentment against some MLAs who acted as mini chief ministers and indulged in corruption. The Congress lost three seats in the by-election last year due to the same reason," says Sharma.

"Gehlot persuaded the Congress leadership that if the sitting MLAs were denied tickets they would resign from the party and contest, thereby ensuring the defeat of new candidates, so they stayed in the fray," he adds.

Verma feels the BJP's fortunes have improved after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressed a series of rallies in the state.

Both Sharma and Verma agree that Gehlot's fate will be decided by more than 500,000 government employees who are reportedly unhappy over non-payment of bonus and other issues.

These employees have virtually declared war on Gehlot, the editors say. They have threatened to get the chief minister defeated because the state government has not met their demands.

The editors also agree that Haryana Chief Minister Om Parkash Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal could emerge as a post-election factor. Chautala's party is expected to pick up between four and seven seats.


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