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February 14, 1998


Campaign Trail/Rajesh Pilot

BJP seeking to thwart Pilot on non-Gujjar votes

R R Nair in Dausa

Any comparison to a youthful former prime minister who used to be at the wheel of his Gypsy while campaigning is welcome in Dausa.

In starched white kurta-pyjama and a colourful turban, he drives his Gypsy, waving to onlookers on the ravenous route after a stopover at Lalsot, around 40 km from the district headquarters.

The one stark difference to the campaign of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi is that the posters today bear the face of Rajiv Gandhi's widow.

The feverish pitch of campaign has not tired former Union minister Rajesh Pilot a bit. But with just a couple of days left for the polling, Pilot is not exactly flying high in his pocket borough, Dausa.

Pilot has been winning from the constituency since 1984. The only time he lost an election, in 1989, was from Bharatpur. But then, in 1989, no Congress candidate made it to Parliament from Rajasthan wading against the Bofors tidal wave.

"If Pilot wins this time, he will never lose again," says Ram Khiladi Saini of Peechupada Khurud village, in the Baswa subdistrict of Dausa constituency.

The reason lies in the caste equations of this eastern Rajasthan district. In 1996, Pilot, the most prominent backward caste Gujjar leader of north India, was pitted against Bharatiya Janata Party vice-president Kirori Lal Meena.

The Meenas, a scheduled tribe, are the dominant community in Dausa. Kirori Lal Meena's defeat was made possible only through the consolidation of votes from the remaining castes.

This time, the BJP has a different ball game altogether. "The Meenas will take revenge for the defeat of one of their most important leaders. We will also get all the upper caste votes as our candidate this time is a Brahmin," says Madhav Lal, a BJP worker.

The reference is to Dr Rohitashwa Sharma, the BJP candidate. Thus, if the BJP gets a considerable chunk of the Brahmin-Vaishya votes, comprising almost 22 per cent of the electorate, the task becomes easier since the party is convinced that the Meenas will certainly vote for BJP.

Ram Khiladi Saini, belonging to the Mali scheduled caste, also says that Pilot will not get a majority from the Baswa subdistrict, and he has his reasons.

Thanks to Pilot winning consistently from Dausa, the Gujjars have come to occupy political centrestage in his constituency. Moreover, given that that the upper castes are not so well off monetarily in the area has enabled the Gujjars to wield tremendous influence among the other communities, earning their jealousy.

The lower castes are also unhappy with the situation. And if the displeasure among the various communities snowballs into a move against Pilot, Rohitashwa Sharma could well enter the 12th Lok Sabha as the giant killer.

Another factor which weighs against Pilot is the possibility of low voter turnout. "When we have such frequent elections, the people are not too enthusiastic about voting," says a close associate of Pilot, "This will affect the Congress more than BJP, because the BJP is a cadre-based party. Also, most Congress supporters are from the villages, and who will have to trudge over long distances to cast their vote."

The fight in Dausa also has a personal element. Sharma had defeated Pilot's wife Rama in the Bansur assembly in 1993 as an Independent.

Though Bansur is a Gujjar stronghold, Rama's helicopter-hopping high-profile campaign spoiled her chances and this is also being held against Pilot in the present elections.

Sharma later became a minister of state for transport when Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat roped roped in the independents to save his government.

This minister of state for transport has another reason to take up cudgels against Pilot: Chandra Swami. The power-broker tantrik, who was jailed on corruption charges when Pilot was minister of state for internal security, is reportedly a friend of Sharma, which Pilot has chosen to play up.

Pilot told Rediff On The Net, "Sharma says that he is a friend of Chandra Swami and that is why we refer to this issue."

Thunders Prasadi Lal Meena, the local MLA and supporter of Pilot, "Pilotsaheb put Chandra Swami behind bars and that is where Sharma will go once we are in power,''

While Pilot goes around the Meena belt with Prasadi Lal alongside him, Brahmin Samaj leaders are also making a spirited appeal for him.

The bus fare hike, the renewed electricity tariff, charges of molestation against Sharma's son, and corruption are the local issues. The anti-incumbency factor could tilt the scales in the Congress's favour especially as farmers keep comparing the Rajasthan's power tariff with the much cheaper cost in Haryana.

In all her speeches, Sonia Gandhi is mentioned as the Congress seeks a vote for the, "family which has given the country a stable government for 45 years."

Charges are hurled against the BJP: about its prime ministerial candidate A B Vajpayee making a statement in court which led to the arrest of freedom fighters in 1942; the jumbo cabinet in Uttar Pradesh; and instability of BJP governments in Gujarat.

The BJP insists that there are no local issues and that a vote for the party is a vote for Vajpayee.

If Pilot wins against the caste odds, it would be purely on account of the image he has been carefully nurturing: that of a national leader with immense potential in days to come; and one who cares for his constituency's development and has already done a lot for it.

Campaign Trail

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