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Shower on son’s desert battleground

New Delhi, Feb. 3: May a thousand electoral flowers bloom in the sandy desert of Rajasthan, home to finance minister Jaswant Singh.

Rajasthan is the state that refused to return Singh the last time he fought a Lok Sabha election and from where his son Manabendra is planning to contest in the coming elections.

Normally finance ministers don’t reward their constituencies with pre-poll largesse.

Unlike their counterparts in the railway ministry who shower trains on their home states, Union finance ministers have in the past acted with restraint.

However, Singh, who has in the past been accused of neglecting his constituency, today took the unprecedented step of planting election seedlings by announcing a host of measures aimed at wooing the electorate in his home state.

Jaipur has been rewarded with an international airport and a brand new world-class convention centre — one of only four to be set up in the country. The two projects calculated together would be worth about Rs 2,500 crore by conservative estimates.

Singh also promised fresh central funds and bonds to raise capital to complete the long-languishing Indira Gandhi canal project.

The Rs 1,600-crore project, running through Barmer, Jaisalmer, Ganganagar, Churu, Jodhpur and Hanumangarh districts, needs distributory canals into the hinterland of these districts which will bring new areas under irrigation.

Singh’s son, a former journalist and army officer, is known to be planning to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections from Barmer, one of the districts which will benefit from the central largesse.

The canal and the prosperity it brings is well known in Rajasthan and just the promise that its waters will irrigate hectares of otherwise barren lands can easily win elections. And Singh knows that well.

Singh, who lost the last election from Chittorgarh, is loath to hit the election trail but pressure is mounting from within the BJP for him to turn into a key contestant from the state.

His possible fame as the man who brought the canal to new villages is expected to add lustre to the campaign.

His aides say the finance minister, who in the past has been accused by his voters of being indifferent to them and their state, has in the last few years been consciously trying to change this image.

Even before the budget, when he normally refuses to meet people, Singh had taken time out to meet MPs from his home state. His wife has been helping out by identifying local issues that he needs to sort out.

Singh has also been very focused on what he wants for his state — help the farm sector which is what ticks in the districts from where he and his son have been operating.

Even the two promises he has held out for his home state — setting up of a national task force for integrated development of desert areas to address the problem of sustainable livelihood in the desert and a sheep rearing initiative under a newly announced National Cattle Development Board — are believed to be focused on specific areas within the state.

“He has become politically far more savvy in the last few years after the BJP came to power than he was in the last two decades of his political career.... Pulls and pressures from a host of people, which only a minister has to face, has helped him turn into a diffe- rent kind of politician,” said political aides who have been working closely with him.

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