The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Past perfect, present a haze

Chittorgarh, Nov. 28: From Rani Padmini’s Palace atop Chittorgarh fort, the urban sprawl of the town below is a haze of congestion. As dusk falls, few lights come on because electricity is rationed.

Chittor is always in a haze, its history shrouding its crying modern needs: power, water, roads and bridges. Chittor is also a development dilemma — a lesson that development will not necessarily translate into votes if it is thrown like scraps to the hungry.

This is the backyard of Union finance minister Jaswant Singh — he won twice and lost once in the Lok Sabha polls. Before him, Chittor threw up Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the face of the BJP in Rajasthan.

Surendra Singh Jhadawat and Narpat Singh Rajvi are also harking back to history, each claiming to symbolise Rajput valour more than the other.

Jhadawat who' Rajvi who'

Political unknowns outside their immediate world, they are the Congress and BJP candidates. Jhadawat is the sitting Congress MLA. Rajvi, contesting from the seat for the third time, is Shekhawat’s son-in-law. Rajvi has been called upon to contest again because Gulab Chand Katariya, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly, cried off and moved to Udaipur because Shekhawat was not available for campaigning.

It is ironical that despite such a claim to fame as having been Shekhawat’s constituency and the homeland of the finance minister — whose office vests in him the primary responsibility of development in the country — Chittor’s people should complain so loudly.

Just as ancient Chittor was synonymous with Rajput braves, modern Chittor should have symbolised Rajasthan’s development. More so in this poll where the key issues revolve around visible and tangible signs of development — new and widened roads, new power substations and freshly cut canals.

The Gambhiri flows through Chittor. An ancient bridge built by Alauddin Khalji who ransacked the fort was the only link between the two halves of the town for years. For 50 years during most of which the Congress ruled, there were repeated promises of a new bridge. Finally, between 1994 and 1999, when the BJP’s Mahesh Enani was elected municipal chairman, he built a second bridge. That should have ensured Enani his victory in the subsequent poll. He lost heavily.

Why should the BJP’s man be defeated for doing his city good' “It (the bridge) did come up. But it was barely enough for our problems. The roads were not widened. There are traffic jams and what good was one bridge when we desperately need half a dozen more' Even now Chittor barely gets two to three hours of electricity on an average when we were promised eight hours,” says Ramkunwar Yadao, a grocer in the main market.

Enani, who is coordinating the party’s election campaign, believes the bridge will pay electoral dividends in this poll because the Congress’ Jhadawat has even less to show. But Enani’s activists are sceptical.

So, six months back, after the priest of a local temple, Gokul Rai, was killed by thieves one night, the Bajrang Dal blamed it on Muslims and turned it into an issue. The resultant strife was limited in its intensity but it polarised the people.

“What did Jhadawat do' Hardly anything for the Hindus but everything for the Muslims,” says Chhotu Singh, a fruit seller.

Now Chittor becomes more visible through the electoral prism of vote-seekers: it has an electorate of about 1.69 lakh, about 12,000 Rajput votes, an equal number of Baniya votes, 6,000 Jain, about 26,000 SC, ST (Meena, Bhil, Chamar and Harijan) and 8,000 Muslims. Assuming that Muslim votes will not go to the BJP, the party has set about trying to cement the other votes in its favour. If it can manage a handsome lead from the 57,000 votes in the city, it stands a better chance of pulling through.

But the city will vote for tangible benefits and with such a mixed population, voting cannot be strictly on caste lines.

Yet, in 1999, in the civic poll following the Assembly poll, the Rana Pratap Setu — a tangible benefit — could not prevent Enani’s defeat. That is the development dilemma: development can translate into votes if it is seen to be comprehensive or else it will encourage divisive forces.

Can Jaswant Singh, who lost in the last Lok Sabha poll, budget for the BJP’s political fortunes in his constituency'

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