The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ladies locked in desert caste cauldron

Jaipur, Nov. 16: The Jhalrapatan contest in next month’s Rajasthan Assembly polls is shaping up to be a keen fight, with Congress MP Rama Pilot locking horns with BJP chief ministerial candidate Vasundhara Raje.

Pilot, currently representing husband Rajesh’s Dausa Lok Sabha seat, is a formidable candidate. In 1993 and 1998, she was elected to the Assembly from Hindoli in Bundi district.

To embarrass the BJP by defeating its chief ministerial candidate on her own turf, the Congress urged Jhalrapatan MLA Mohan Lal Rathore, whose name had already been cleared for December’s contest, to withdraw.

After the Congress indicated it may field Pilot, Vasundhara reportedly developed cold feet and expressed her desire to contest from Pilawa, which, like Jhalrapatan, falls within her Jhalawar Lok Sabha constituency. She has won from there on five occasions.

Vasundhara was dealt a blow when the BJP decided its chief ministerial candidates would contest from only one constituency. It was aware that its cadre would get “demoralised” if its nominees appeared “diffident” about winning their own seat.

But cold feet or no, Vasundhara has been in constant touch with her constituency. In this extremely backward region where feudal values persist and the population is conservative, she has the right credentials.

The BJP leader — a Rajput — belongs to the Scindia family of Gwalior and is married to the Jat ruler of the former princely state of Dholpur. Her son is married into the Judev family of Gujjar chieftains and this may negate the advantage the Congress hopes to obtain by fielding the widow of Gujjar leader Rajesh Pilot against her.

Vasundhara herself is leaving nothing to chance, repeatedly telling her voters proudly of her Gujjar links and hinting that she is “every community’s person”. She is also banking on the traditional BJP support base of upper-caste voters and Other Backward Classes.

The Congress has decided to play the caste card keeping in mind the constituency profile of Jhalrapatan — Gujjars make up about 10 per cent of the constituency’s electorate.

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