The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Role reversal in Raje land
- From the quiet of Shantivan to the heat and dust of Rajasthan

New Delhi, June 23: Two years ago, Sonia Gandhi had braved the mid-summer desert heat to counter Vasundhara Raje’s “water offensive”.

Her roadshow could not save the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan and Raje stormed to power.

Today, the roles were reversed.

As Raje sat uneasy in the chief minister’s chair, the Congress president stepped into Bavari and Jhirana villages and met the families of the five farmers killed in police firing as they agitated for water from the Beesalpur dam to save their crop.

Sonia also visited the Tonk district hospital where those injured in the June 13 firing are being treated.

Sonia called the firing “barbaric”. She announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh for each of the bereaved families and Rs 10,000 for each of the injured. “They (the farmers) were very sad,” she said outside the hospital.

“It is shocking. One can’t understand how and why this (firing) was done. People have died.”

That the BJP was worried about the fallout of Sonia’s visit was clear from the state unit’s reaction. As Sonia landed at Sanganer airport in the capital Jaipur and changed over to a helicopter to fly to Tonk, BJP state secretary Arun Chaturvedi and MLA Kalicharan Saraf led a black-flag demonstration.

“Sonia go back,” the BJP workers shouted. “Do not play politics over the dead.” But the protesters were stopped on their way to the airport.

If Sonia made her point, the gods, too, seemed to do their bit. Even before Sonia took the chopper ride back from Tonk, rain brought hopes of a good monsoon ahead.

The rain must have also come as a relief to Raje, who faces the wrath of farmers.

While campaigning in Tonk before the 2003 Assembly polls, Raje had reportedly promised water for irrigation from the Beesalpur dam, though the storage was envisaged for meeting drinking water requirements of nearby towns, including the district headquarters.

The farmers today submitted a memorandum to Sonia seeking legal action against the police officials involved in the firing. The farmers also demanded release of water from the dam for their crop.

The Jat Mahasabha in the district submitted a memorandum demanding withdrawal of 49 cases filed against the farmers who took part in the demonstration for water.

Hundreds of villagers turned up at the Bavari helipad when Sonia landed there.

Sonia, who is also the chairperson of the Congress-led coalition at the Centre, assured that the UPA regime would extend all possible help to the state government if it came up with a plan to provide water to the parched areas.

Gehlot, who was at the receiving end of Raje’s campaign during the 2003 polls, accompanied Sonia.

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