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Shooter aims for ‘gold’ on debut

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has already won silver, in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Now, the poll debutant tells cheering crowds, he wants gold.

“Gold”, though, doesn’t just mean victory from the Jaipur Rural seat, where the BJP had fielded the ace shooter. It means “jobs for the youth” and “basic amenities” for families.

But first, the 44-year-old former army colonel has to defeat a formidable rival: Rahul Gandhi aide and former Union minister C.P. Joshi. But the man who pulled India out of the sporting Bronze Age is upbeat.

“If I could win the first (individual) Olympic silver for my country without any financial support, raising the hopes of billions, I can also win gold for the youth,” he tells a rally at Manoharpur’s Gandhi Chowk, about 60km from Jaipur.

Poll analysts say Joshi is perhaps the strongest Congress contestant in Rajasthan and the likeliest to withstand the perceived BJP wave in the state. A self-confessed admirer of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, Joshi is a straight-talking politician with a “clean” image and reputation as an efficient administrator.

P.B. Chandra, a poll analyst, believes Rathore would have had better chances in urban rather than rural Jaipur, “where many would not know about his achievements as a shooter”.

“Caste equations are key in Rajasthan. (Chief minister) Vasundhara Raje should have fielded someone more politically savvy from here,” Chandra said.

Rathore, who quit the army last year to join the BJP, has the blessings of Narendra Modi and Raje. He is miffed by the Congress labels of “outsider” and “celebrity candidate”.

“Why can’t somebody with three generations of ancestors in the army come into politics? I served the army for 23 years. Why is my joining politics after these long years like a blasphemy?”

He hits out at the Congress: “Perhaps they don’t know that I was born in Jaisalmer and that my parents had been living in Jaipur through the years I was out protecting the country’s borders. It is unfortunate that soldiers who have to stay at various places to protect the borders are being called ‘outsiders’.”

Rathore says he led a team of 120 men in Kashmir tracking down terrorists when he was just 24. He says he was shot at several times and that his 9 Grenadiers unit killed at least 300 terrorists over two years.

“A soldier is not just someone who fights for the country physically. Fighting for the development of the country is also a form of soldiering. My experience with the army and in the field of sports will help me in politics,” he said.

Rathore denies the popular view that sport is all about hard work and discipline while politics is about manipulation and dirty tricks.

“Like sports, politics too needs discipline and high organisational skills. And remember, war too is very dirty.”

The winner of about 25 international medals is still a force in double trap but at the start of the season, he wrote to the National Rifle Association of India not to consider him for tournaments in the near future.

One factor in his favour could be anti-incumbency: outgoing Congress MP Lal Chand Kataria is seen as an “absentee” leader. But Joshi — a politician with mass appeal who has been Union and state minister as well as state Congress chief — presents a different challenge.

Rathore told The Telegraph his main agenda was to highlight the six decades of Congress corruption and misrule and the lack of even basic amenities for the people.

“Earlier, the people didn’t have an option; now they have an alternative — a renewed and strong BJP,” he said. “The people must vote for Modi.”

Joshi, who brushes away any talk of a Modi wave, claims the Congress would do much better in the Lok Sabha elections from Rajasthan than it did in last December’s Assembly polls, when it won just 21 of the 200 seats.

Asked why he changed his constituency from Bhilwara to Jaipur Rural, Joshi said: “It was the high command’s decision. I did not want to contest from Bhilwara as I could not fulfil my promise of bringing drinking water. But being in public life, I cannot shy away from contesting elections.”

But Congress sources say that Joshi, a Brahmin, has chosen his constituency carefully, keeping in mind that 3 lakh of its 17 lakh voters are Brahmins.

The Rajputs, on whom Rathore may be pinning his hopes, are just 1 lakh, while the Other Backward Classes number 7 lakh, the tribals are 1.5 lakh and the Dalits 2.5 lakh.

● Jaipur Rural votes on April 17