The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shekhawat loses ground, novice takes on CM

New Delhi, Nov. 10: The BJP managed to clear the names of most candidates for the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi elections on the eve of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s departure for Russia.

Party president M. Venkaiah Naidu has been authorised by the parliamentary board to finalise the remaining candidates.

Lightweight Mahendra Jhabak, one of 73 Rajasthan candidates announced today, has been given the task of defeating chief minister Ashok Gehlot. The businessman, who is entering the poll fray for the first time, has been fielded against Gehlot from Jodhpur’s Sardarpura constituency. BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar has described him as “young and dynamic”.

Jhabak owes his selection to his caste. As a Vaish, he is expected to consolidate traders’ votes and win the support of other upper castes; Gehlot is from the backward Mali caste.

The BJP’s decision to pit a Mali against the chief minister had failed in the last elections as its candidate, Rajendra Gehlot, did not win either backward or upper caste votes.

Even so, Jhabak is an exception in a list dominated by backward caste Gujjars and Jats and the Meenas, a scheduled tribe.

Today’s list also confirms the declining clout of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Two of his detractors, Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi and Kirori Lal Meena, have switched to Digod and Sawai Madhopur, respectively, despite a diktat from Shekhawat that nobody should be allowed this “privilege”. Another Shekhawat adversary, Ghanshyam Tiwari, changed constituencies from Chomu to Sanganer in the first list.

The Vice-President, a former Rajasthan chief minister, was unable to win son-in-law Narpat Singh Rajvi a change of constituency — Rajvi has been renominated from Chittorgarh, from where he lost the last elections. Amer, which he was eyeing, went to Navin Pilania, the son of Jat Mahasabha leader and former director-general of police, Ghanshyam Pilania.

Sources say the BJP did not wish to annoy the Mahasabha, which, they believe can influence the outcome in the state. The BJP managed to sweep the 1999 Lok Sabha elections in Rajasthan due to the near-total Jat support they had.

Jats voted for the Congress in the 1998 Assembly polls, but were angry the following year at Gehlot’s not listing them as backward castes. They got their way subsequently.

Shekhawat is not the only loser — heavyweights like Ramdas Aggarwal and Banwari Lal Sharma have also fallen by the wayside. Sharma, a former state BJP chief, declined to fight from Jaipur’s Hawa Mahal constituency in protest against Vasundhara Raje being appointed his successor. The seat was allotted to Surendra Parik.

Aggarwal had been eyeing Alwar, but it was Pushpa Gupta who landed the seat.

A glance at the candidates selected shows that chief ministerial candidates Uma Bharti and Vasundhara Raje have had their own way in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, respectively.

As in Jaipur, the old guard in Bhopal has lost out. The Sunderlal Patwa-Kailash Joshi-Vikram Verma-Sumitra Mahajan coterie lost primacy once the Sangh declared its support for Bharti.

But in Delhi, chief ministerial candidate Madan Lal Khurana has had to accommodate supporters of rivals Sahib Singh Verma and Vijay Kumar Malhotra. The BJP has had no problems in Chhattisgarh because it has not publicly named its candidate for chief minister.

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