The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chhattisgarh cloud on Gehlot team

Sangaria (Rajasthan), Nov. 26: A whisper campaign going on among Congressmen in Rajasthan could have the Chhattisgarh chief minister squirming in his seat more than 1,500 km away.

But what’s the connection, except that both states are Congress-ruled'

Pat came the answer: K.C. Vishnoi, the Congress candidate from the Sagaria Assembly constituency in northwest Rajasthan.

Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi is being blamed for the choice of Vishnoi as the party’s candidate from Sagaria against stiff opposition from the rank and file. “By pandering to Jogi’s political compulsions in Chhattisgarh and re-nominating a hugely unpopular Vishnoi, (chief minister Ashok) Gehlot has gifted the seat to the Opposition,” said a party leader.

To an outsider, the talk of a Jogi-Vishnoi link might appear puzzling. Why should Jogi press for the 48-year-old minister’s re-nomination or, for that matter, why should Gehlot agree to his Chhattisgarh counterpart’s request when there is practically no doubt about the outcome' But then, an outsider would not know that Vishnoi is the brother of Justice L.C. Badhu, one of the two judges on the Bilaspur bench of Jabalpur High Court.

Last week, the Bilaspur bench referred Jogi’s ST status case to the full bench in Jabalpur. Jogi claims he is a tribal but his detractors do not think so.

In Sangaria, Justice Badhu’s visit to the constituency for a few days last month had raised eyebrows. Apparently, the matter was brought to the notice of the Election Commission as well as the chief justice of India.

Vishnoi, who won the 1998 polls from Sangaria by just 79 votes, has been in the thick of controversies for quite some time. Recently, there were reports that he was harassing his wife through claims in public that she was mentally unstable. She is in virtual confinement. The controversy, which has been highlighted by his political rivals within the Congress and outside, has made the sailing even more difficult for Vishnoi. But Gehlot may yet heave a sigh of relief when the poll results are out — Het Ram Beniwal of the CPM is widely seen as the frontrunner to snatch the seat from Vishnoi, not Gurjant Singh of the BJP.

Vishnoi’s may be an extreme case. But the Congress is not in a happy position elsewhere in Hanumangarh district, of which Sangaria is one of the six segments, or in the neighbouring Sri Ganganagar district. Together the two districts account for 11 seats in the 200-member Assembly.

As the campaign for the December 1 polls entered its last phase, it seemed that more than mere distance separated the two districts from state capital Jaipur. The ruling party might end up paying dearly for feigning ignorance about the intense anti-incumbency sentiment against most of its sitting MLAs in the two districts. Eight of the 10 sitting legislators have been re-nominated.

The BJP state leadership has done no better regarding choice of nominees, though a common perception in the two districts is that the party might still vastly improve on its performance in the 1998 polls.

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