|Jaswant’s daughter-in-law Chitra Singh. Picture by
Rakhee Roy Talukdar
Barmer, April 1: The party has expelled him. His son cannot fight at his side. And the summer heat in the desert can be taxing for a 76-year-old.
So, Jaswant Singh’s hopes of winning Barmer as an Independent ride largely on a graceful 30-something textile designer. His daughter-in-law Chitra Singh, the star campaigner in the veteran’s battle to save his honour against his former party.
“I had to get involved after my father-in-law was denied the BJP ticket. He is contesting to honour the wishes of the people and party workers in the region,” the soft-spoken Chitra told The Telegraph.
“My husband cannot campaign, he is not well. My mother-in-law cannot take in so much because of her age. My father-in-law is doing his bit but this being the largest constituency, I had to step in.”
“Stepping in” means travelling about 500km every day under a scorching sun, interacting with voters in 20-odd meetings. She eats only fruits before beginning her daylong village-hopping. For lunch, she eats whatever the villagers give her.
Her husband and Jaswant’s son Manvendra, BJP lawmaker from the Sheo Assembly segment that falls in the Barmer Lok Sabha constituency, is keeping a low profile. Officially, he is stressed out and has been advised rest — so he cannot campaign.
Even if he could, he would be expected to electioneer for official party candidate Sonaram Choudhary, a defector from the Congress, or face disciplinary action.
So, the onus lies on young Chitra, a graduate from Ajmer’s Sophia College who designs saris for exhibitions.
Dressed in the traditional Rajput attire, she keeps her face veiled even while addressing crowds — in deference to custom in this deeply conservative belt.
“I’m not interested in politics but since our family is into it and I have campaigned for my husband, it comes easily to me,” Chitra said.
Her next few words provided a glimpse of the steel under the soft demeanour.
“This time, it’s a fight between the real BJP and the fake BJP; and I have to help win it,” she said.
“Wrong decisions are unacceptable. Today, if we sit quietly and not say anything, tomorrow this kind of thing will happen again and again.”
Chitra has her finger on the pulse of the people, for she is in regular touch with her husband’s constituents.
“Times have changed. People expect you to be there always, and especially when they need you. Besides, the women here still do not come out and talk with the representatives; so I form the bridge between them and the people’s representative (Manvendra).”
Asked about the chances of Jaswant, a Rajput by caste, Chitra said: “The Muslims, Dalits and Rajputs are on our side except the Jats, who account for 3 to 5 lakh voters.”
Of Barmer constituency’s 16 lakh voters, Rajputs make up 3.75 lakh, the Dalits account for 3.25 lakh and the Muslims for 3 lakh. Sonaram is a Jat.
Chitra said that the day Jaswant was denied the party ticket, thousands had gathered before his ancestral home, shouting slogans and demanding that he contest the election anyway.
She believes the BJP workers would not have been “so agitated” if, instead of Sonaram, the party had fielded any other Jat leader.
“Why was the ticket given to Congressman Sonaram Choudhary, after so many surveys and feedbacks by (chief minister) Vasundhara Raje here? At least 130 people were selected to send names, of whom 110 wanted Jaswant Singh,” the daughter-in-law said.
“There were several other names, even Jat names, on the list. Some even wanted me to contest. So why pick Sonaram, who could not even win the Assembly election from Baytoo this time, which is a Jat belt?”
She said Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi too had done independent surveys, “all of which said the ticket should be given to my father-in-law”.
Ramnath Singh, a local labourer and Jaswant admirer, said: “Earlier, people here used to travel on bullock and camel carts. It’s Jaswant Singh who brought trains here.”
He added: “It’s now a fight to save the honour of the family and of Rajputs. This time we don’t want any promise of development from Jaswant; we only want him to win.”
This is the first time that Jaswant, a four-time Lok Sabha member and five-time Rajya Sabha MP, will be contesting from Barmer.
Asked why Jaswant had remembered Barmer only in his last election, Chitra said: “He had always wanted to contest from here but was never given a chance. (State BJP stalwart) Bhairon Singh Shekhawat never gave him a ticket from here.”