The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bypoll litmus test for just-crowned Vasundhara

Jaipur, Dec. 10: It could easily have been on Friday the 13th, but Thursday the 12th is going to be equally critical for Vasundhara Raje, Rajasthan’s new BJP chief.

The day Gujarat’s voters press their choice of the party that will rule them for the next five years, three Assembly byelections in neighbouring Rajasthan — Bali, Sagwara and Bansur — will be the litmus test of her credibility.

For Vasundhara, the stakes are high and more so in Bali, which fell vacant following the election of BJP veteran Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as the country’s Vice-President. The constituency is situated in the western desert district of Pali, adjoining Jodhpur — the home district of Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot.

The bypolls are considered to be a dress rehearsal for next year’s Vidhan Sabha elections. The outcome would reveal the mood of the people, though the polls are being fought mainly on local issues and caste combinations, that, too, without the participation of any bigwigs of the two parties who are busy with the Gujarat battle.

The elections are also important to Vasundhara for another reason. Most of the senior BJP leaders in Rajasthan are understood to be ill at ease over her installation as state unit chief which has given rise to infighting. That she has decided to continue as a Union minister and has, thereby, according to many, converted the post of state unit president into a “part-time job”, has irked many of the seniors.

In Bali, the BJP’s Pushpendra Singh Ranawat is pitted against Bhim Raj Bhati of the Congress. Bhati also has to contend with expelled former MP Meetha Lal Jain, who decided to remain in the fray after the Congress preferred to field Bhati.

Bhati had contested the last Assembly election as an Independent from the neighbouring Pali constituency after he was denied a ticket.

In Sagwara, situated in the tribal district of Dungarpur in the southern part of the state bordering Gujarat, ex-MLA Kanak Mal Katara of the BJP is locked in a contest with Surendra Kumar. Kumar is the son of Bhikha Bhai, whose death necessitated the bypoll. The Congress has fielded the late freedom fighter’s son, hoping to retain the seat.

The bypoll to the Bansur constituency, in Alwar district, will be fought mainly between the BJP’s Rohitash Kumar, a former minister, and the Congress’ Sardara Ram.

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