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8 wickets down, raja shifts to poll durbar

Dungarpur, Nov. 24: An impromptu durbar gathers at Dewal village here where a jilted raja is out to avenge his humiliation. Vermillion smeared on his forehead, Raj Singh Dungarpur is back home and is seated on the steps of the panchayat office dispensing wisdom alternately in the local dialect and in the Queen’s English.

He offered his services to Sonia Gandhi last year in a 25-minute meeting with the lady of 10 Janpath, he says. Her response was lukewarm. Then he got in touch with Ambika Soni who directed him to Ashok Gehlot. Gehlot was less than lukewarm.

Then Pramod Mahajan called him. “I know what Raj Singh Dungarpur means to Dungarpur, Pramod told me at a party and asked me to call him.”

So now here he is and the BJP is riding his royal indignation to try and turn the tide in tribal south Rajasthan that has, barring an aberration or two, voted firmly for the Congress.

“I am 68 years old now and I reckon life’s eight wickets down.” Cricket lingo must pepper any conversation with the man who played 16 years for Rajasthan and went on to become one of the most talked about — and talking — cricket administrators.

“At my age, you crave recognition. So I cannot be just forgotten or ignored. I have returned to Dungarpur because of what it has given me.”

What is that' Among other things, the name.

Truant little princes in public school, two Raj Singhs often confused the English headmaster who got back by punishing the one for the other’s misdemeanours. Finally one day, exasperated, he told them they should suffix their names with that of their princely states — Dungarpur and Chittor.

In the election campaign, that is his calling card and, he hopes his vote-catching wand. “The people say I have never forgotten them and they are proud that the world over I am known as Raj Singh Dungarpur.”

His father, the Maharawal Lakshman Singh, won three elections from neighbouring Aspur. When Aspur was declared a constituency reserved for scheduled tribes, Lakshman Singh moved to Chittor, winning thrice from there too. Raj Singh says he campaigned for his father, “my role model”, and that his record is still unbeaten. Raj Singh’s not contesting, though.

He has stationed himself here, adding his might to Narendra Modi’s muscle for nine constituencies in Dungarpur and Banswara. “I believe we will win in at least three,” he says, fresh from a public rally with Modi at Sagvada. The Congress was upset in a byelection at Sagvada last year at the time of the Gujarat Assembly polls and in the wash of a saffron wave.

In the Wagar region — Dungarpur and Banswara — Raj Singh says he has given up a passion — cricket — for the time being. “I’m just telling the people I may have played cricket but it’s time for you to play football, learn to kick, kick out the Congress.”

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