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February 12, 1998


Ex-princess makes all the difference in Alwar

R R Nair in Alwar

There are no banners, no streamers, or loudspeakers blaring empty nothings about 'people's choice'.

It's elections '98. Just four days to go for polling, Alwar in Rajasthan remains a sleepy town. But with a difference.

Alwar is one of the eight constituencies in Rajasthan which faces a triangular contest. In all the other 19 seats the real fight is between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress.

The third contender for the Alwar seat is a blue-blooded rebel: Yuvarani Mahendra Kumari of the former royal family. Mahendra Kumari had won this seat on a BJP ticket in 1991, riding the crest of the Ram wave.

More than the battles of yore this descendent of the Bundi royal family who married Yuvaraj Pratap Singh of Alwar has a legacy, that of her husband.

Pratap Singh, a Jan Sangh fellow traveller, was tortured by the government during the Emergency. His death at the height of the Emergency still remains a mystery. Now he has become a part of the local pantheon and people still adore him in Alwar.

His widow Mahendra Kumari feels the BJP fielded her in 1991 to cash in on the dead Yuvaraja's reputation. She told Rediff On The NeT, "They used me and kicked me out. In 1996, when they didn't give me a ticket I kept quiet and waited. They didn't even offer an excuse."

The BJP candidate is Dr Jaswant Singh Yadav who lost to Nawal Kishore Sharma by around 2,500 votes the last time. "Jaswant Singh lost the last time because he had first crossed over to the BJP from the Congress and our workers were apathetic to him. Yet he lost only by a narrow margin," says Khilli Mal Jain, his election agent.

The single most important factor which determined the nominee is caste. In this region, politics is always discussed in terms of caste and communal divisions.

Ahirs (Yadavs) are the dominant caste in Alwar. So both the BJP and the Congress have fielded Ahirs. Lending credence to this fact is that Ahirs have won the seat four times in the past.

The Congress's Ghasiram Yadav has been the sitting MLA from Mundawar for almost 35 years. He is 82, which is what is against him. Even his opponents agree that Ghasiram Yadav has a good mass base which he had nurtured over the years.

There are no big issues in this election, at least for the man on the street. "Yuvarani has done good work, getting the roads repaired and putting up street lights," says Praveen Khitamal, who runs a public call office in Alwar town.

But in the villages Mahendra Kumari's reputation rests wholly on her husband's good deeds. Jitendra Singh of Jhavara village is upset because the BJP has denied her a ticket.

But Mahendra Kumari herself is no speaker. All she talks of is the BJP leadership denying her a ticket. And village elders, poor farmers, squat on the dust with folded hands and nod their head in agreement.

But the royal rebel has not made the BJP workers disillusioned. "She still retains the regal air and cannot mingle with party workers. And her influence is limited to four out of the eight assembly segments. In the other half she is in the third position," says BJP worker S K Bhargava.

Congress workers too claim that Mahendra Kumari is not in the race. But there is a possibility of the Ahir votes getting split between the Congress and BJP candidates.

The hardy Muslim farmers of Mewat, the Meos, may play a crucial role if Ahir votes get split.

"Unlike Muslims elsewhere, Meos don't vote en bloc. But this time the Meos are with the Congress and it's all because of Sonia," says Mubarak Hussain, who runs a petrol pump on the Delhi-Alwar road.

Even the Congress leaders are categorical: "We are upbeat Just because of Sonia. Otherwise we couldn't get votes in Sitaram Kesri's name. Now we don't look back at all," says Ram Dham, the Congress candidate's election agent.

Even on the street the only sign of the Congress presence in the constituency are a few posters of Sonia Gandhi. The party believes it would be able to garner traditional Congress votes from the Muslim and Scheduled Castes.

The man in the street cares less; the party workers can't conjure up many issues and at times it all boils down to just a Vajpayee versus Sonia race; where an abduction here or a water pump there could make a little difference.

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