The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fawning within Rama’s earshot, bitching out of it

Jhalrapatan (Rajasthan), Nov. 28: Verdant Jhalawar is an oddity in arid Rajasthan and carries with it on Id the auguries of a happy poll. At the Idgah, old time Congress worker Yusuf Ali is exchanging greetings when Rama Pilot comes by to meet voters who have finished reading namaz and are in a general mood of bonhomie.

“She is an outsider. Let us see,” Ali is saying when Pilot, with another group, walks towards him.

When she gets close, Ali says: “Ramaji has tied down Vasundhara Raje. Her (Vasundhara’s) chief ministerial ambitions will be quashed here.” A beaming Pilot moves on.

Ali changes tack. “She (Pilot) knows so little about this place. She has to take the sitting MLA with her everywhere.”

Pilot is back again and wants Ali to come in her car to the next stop, Biriyakhedi village. She gets into the Mahindra Scorpio. Ali stays back to say: “Come with us. You will see she knows nothing.” So what are her chances' “I would say 60-40 against us.”

Ali gets into the Scorpio and as he shuts the door sitting next to his candidate so that she can hear, adds: “Ramaji has made it 50-50 and, with four days to go to the polls, will win 100 per cent.” Pilot beams again.

The Congress has pit Pilot to “tie down” Vasundhara in her own constituency but Jhalrapatan is clear about its choice. Congress workers like to keep their leaders happy — Pilot is an MP and who knows she will be of help sometime — but they cannot lie to themselves.

Inside the walled city of Jhalrapatan, in the main bazaar choking with pedestrians and traffic, Vasundhara, at least, is leagues ahead of her Congress rival. She has been MP from here five times. For Jhalrapatan’s 1.71 lakh voters, the high-profile contest between Pilot and Vasundhara is an occasion to milk for publicity and the hope that that will bring with it a tourist inflow. Jhalrapatan gets its name from the bells of 100-odd ancient temples that clang during aarti every evening.

The Congress has pit Pilot, a Gurjar from Haryana, to upset the BJP’s caste calculations. There are an estimated 18,000 Gurjar votes. Vasundhara’s projection as the potential chief minister, however, is perceived to give the constituency its VIP status.

At Biriyakhedi village where Pilot is campaigning door to door, Girdhar Singh, a farmer, says: “The Congress would have done better to retain Mohanlal Rathod.” Rathod is the sitting Congress MLA and escorting Pilot who has to be briefed. Six rivers pass through Jhalawar district, she is told. But Jhalawar has few reservoirs.

“I am here as a soldier for the party,” Pilot says when asked how it is to take on Vasundhara. “I did not choose to come here. I am an MP and have another year to go in the Lok Sabha. I believe the name of my late husband (Rajesh Pilot) carries a long way.”

“Vasundhara is Rajasthan’s daughter-in-law,” says jeweller Vijay Mohan. But so is Pilot. “But Vasundhara gets work done,” he argues. What about Pilot' “She is an outsider.” So is Vasundhara. “But she has made us her own. She has won in the Lok Sabha from here.”

When the voter argues in favour of a candidate, there can be little question.

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