The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tug of war over Jat votes in Rajasthan

Jaipur, Jan. 8: With Assembly polls due later this year, the Congress and the BJP are going all out to woo the Jats in the state’s Jat belt that accounts for around 45 seats.

The BJP has flashed its “winning” card, Vasundhara Raje, the recently appointed state unit chief who would be projected as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.

On Monday, BJP general-secretary Rajnath Singh confirmed in Jodhpur — chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s home town — the party’s decision to pitch Raje for the state’s top job.

On Saturday in Jaipur, labour minister Sahib Singh Verma iterated that his announcement of Raje as the party’s chief ministerial candidate at a farmers’ rally before the bypolls had helped the BJP’s electoral sweep.

He raised the issue on Saturday to underscore his announcement’s relevance despite some state leaders’ reservations.

The BJP clearly calculates that Raje, though a member of Madhya Pradesh’s Scindia royal family, would be acceptable to the state’s Jats because she is married to the Jat prince of Dholpur, Rajasthan.

With the BJP playing the Jat card, the Congress strategists are under pressure for the community had felt hurt, when in 1998 the Congress preferred Gehlot as chief minister to Jat leader Ram Niwas Mirdha, then the state unit chief.

The Congress high command is reportedly busy devising ways to regain the confidence of the Jats, who have been Congress supporters since the 1952 general elections.

In 1998, however, insult was added to injury when another Jat leader, Paras Ram Maderna, then leader of the legislative party, too, was snubbed. Though Maderna was made the Assembly Speaker and five were inducted into the government, including three with Cabinet rank, the Jats were not pacified.

The community felt that they were denied their due — the top job in the state. Close on the heels of the snub, Girija Vyas, a Brahmin, was appointed the state Congress chief.

The Jats have traditionally stuck with the Congress. Even in 1977, when it was trounced, most of the party’s 41 victors in the Assembly polls were from Rajasthan’s Jat belt.

Perhaps to contain the Jat “wrath”, Gehlot has time and again floated the idea of replacing Vyas with a Jat leader. A likely candidate was PWD minister Harendra Mirdha, son of Ram Niwas. The move, however, never worked.

Senior Jat leaders have been heard saying in private that they would not settle for anything less than chief ministership now. So replacing Vyas with a Jat leader would not help the Congress.

When the party high command last week summoned state irrigation minister Kamala, a senior Jat leader, for a meeting with Sonia Gandhi, all sorts of rumours ran rife. What happened at the meeting is still unknown but the rumours in political circles have not abated.

According to party sources, Kamala is being considered for the chief minister’s post, or if the party decides to stick with Gehlot, she may be appointed his deputy.

To counter the move, Gehlot’s supporters tried to impress the futility of a change of guard on Ambika Soni, Pranab Mukherjee and P. Shiv Shankar, who were in Jaipur last weekend to monitor the manifesto’s implementation. The supporters said such a move could alienate other communities from the party. Obviously, some party MLAs conveyed this assessment at Gehlot’s instance.

Gehlot’s lobby, however, is reconciled to a shake-up in the organisation. They are certain Vyas would be shown the door. But they are not sure if Gehlot’s chair is up for grabs as well.

The lobbying and counter-lobbying, meanwhile, goes on in Delhi, stronger than ever.

Several Congress MLAs are camping in the national capital to meet Sonia Gandhi and senior leaders.

A final decision by the Congress high command is expected once the three-member team submits its report to Sonia.

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