The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Few takers for Sonia caste ‘package’

Jaipur, Jan. 29: The Congress is playing the caste card in Rajasthan to take on its high-on-Hindutva rival, but many of Ashok Gehlot’s colleagues are hardly impressed.

The chief minister was seen trying hard to convince newsmen after a mini Cabinet expansion last week how much thought the Congress high command had put in to piece together a “package” for the state. “Bahut soch samajh ke high command ne nirnay liya hai…” he was heard saying.

At the same gathering some distance away, one of Gehlot’s senior Cabinet colleagues was chatting with friends and party workers.

Scarcely hiding his disdain for the “package”, he could be heard saying: “If things are allowed to continue as they are, the party will face its Waterloo in the polls.”

The Congress — rattled by the BJP sweep in Gujarat and its vow to convert Rajasthan into the next ‘Hindutva laboratory’ — had recently unleashed a caste “package” in the state.

Two deputy chief ministers and a ‘tainted’ minister — Ram Singh Vishnoi had to quit from the ministry earlier after his son was found involved in drug trafficking — were appointed in Gehlot’s government based purely on caste considerations.

But none — in spite of the efforts of the high command and its closest cronies — seems to have been taken in. A former chief minister and a Congress veteran told reporters that unless the quality of Gehlot’s governance changed, the “package” would not even serve cosmetic purposes.

“The benefits of government programmes and schemes have not percolated down to the targeted cross-section of the population,” he said.

Another said the deputy chief minister experiment had been tried by the former Bhairon Singh Shekhawat regime as well. Hari Shankar Bhabhra had then been inducted as Shekhawat’s deputy but the BJP had gone on to perform miserably in the elections.

Yet another said deputy chief ministers Kamla and Banwari Lal Bairva were ill qualified to be potential representatives of their castes.

Kamla, a Jat, had recently dropped her surname — Beniwal — and could hardly have much appeal among her community members, he said.

And Lal had lost the Lok Sabha bypoll from Tonk reserved constituency though he was a minister in Gehlot’s team, he added.

The chief minister is also trying to win back the loyalties of state employees by clearing dearness allowance instalments that had been kept on hold because of a funds crunch. Twice in the past week, he has hinted that they will be cleared.

Bhim Raj Bhati, one of the Congress candidates who lost the recent bypoll, had said that one reason for his defeat from Bali was the anger of employees who had been denied DA and bonus.

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