The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gehlot comes back home, magic in place

Sardarpura (Jodhpur), Nov. 27: Years ago, as a boy, Ashok Gehlot learnt magic from his father. That little boy has come a long way, but the spell he cast on his voters has still not broken.

Large parts of this constituency get drinking water every alternate day and there is no proper arrangement for cleaning the streets. But for the common man in the Mahamandir locality of the ‘Sun City’, Gehlot continues to be a star.

On Tuesday, he came back to renew the bond with Mahamandir, the place he was born in and educated.

It was 7.15 in the morning. The venue was the Shri Vardhman Uchch Prathmik Vidyalaya, run by the Jain community, where Gehlot had taken his first steps as a primary school student.

“This is the place where I began my life, participated in voluntary labour with other kids during the construction of the new building and began my political career. I get peace whenever I am here to spend some time with you,” he told the small but intimate crowd of around a hundred that included some of his old schoolmates.

After a brief account of the achievements of his government and a dig at the BJP, he interacted with the people. Then he left for another locality. Thus began his two-hour-long series of 10 small meetings. The final round was yesterday. He will return to the constituency on Saturday, when only door-to-door contact would be allowed.

Gehlot asked his audience to canvass for him during his absence. He told them to go from door to door to ask for support from the poorest of the poor. “This is important because every citizen has got one vote each, rich or poor, and begging for support is giving honour to the electorate, an essential part of democracy,” he said.

Gehlot repeated the call at his other meetings in Juni Bazar, which has been recently named Ashok Nagar, in Shiv Shakti Nagar’s Mahadev Mandir, Teesri Pol Ke Bahar in Mahavir Nagar and so on.

At Mahavir Nagar, Dayawanti, a housewife, said the absence of a pucca road and drinking water supply on alternate days were too much to bear. “Whom did you vote last time'” she was asked. “Who else, only him,” she shot back, pointing at Gehlot. Who would she vote for this time' Her reply came quick: “Who else but he should take care of us.”

As Gehlot left, a group of supporters shouted: “Ashok nahi yeh andhi hai, Marwar ka Gandhi hai (Not Ashok but a storm, he is the Gandhi of Marwar). Marwar is how the former princely state of Jodhpur was called.

While Gehlot was busy reaching out to voters on his home turf, another man was having a hurried breakfast.

For high-profile BJP candidate Mahendra Jhabak, it has been a long journey from the air-conditioned boardroom of the Indian Tobacco Company, from where he resigned as vice-president three months ago, to the narrow lanes of Sardarpura constituency in Jodhpur city.

After resigning from ITC, Jhabak has been taking care of the accounts of the Maharaja of Jodhpur Gaj Singh. Now he is the challenger and his rival is none other than Gehlot, who has so far successfully contested elections from the area half-a-dozen times.

After a traditional Jodhpur breakfast in the house of a BJP worker, Jhabak was joined by about a dozen others. Then he resumed his door-to-door campaign in his typical style.

The venue was Paota, a locality in the constituency. The time: 10 am. A deshi drummer, walking alongside, announced Jhabak’s arrival. As the residents came out of their houses, Jhabak hugged the men and greeted the women, seeking their “ashirwad”. Somebody in the crowd handed over a pamphlet criticising the Congress candidate.

Jhabak has made the problem of unemployment among the educated youth his main plank. He also talked about the industrial recession in Rajasthan and the closure of a large number of small-scale units “because of the lacklustre industrial policy of the Gehlot government”.

Paota is also one of those areas which get water supply on alternate days. This has given him another issue.

Some glamour has been added to Jhabak’s candidature by the royal family’s support. But though he has covered more than 75 per cent of the constituency on foot, Jhabak, it seems, has a long way to go before he can make a dent in Gehlot’s hold.

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