Rebellions in Rajasthan

Print edition : November 21, 1998

Both the BJP and the Congress(I) face public expressions of resentment by aspirants who were denied the party ticket.

THE Assembly elections in Rajasthan will be crucial in many ways for both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the main Opposition Congress(I). The Congress(I) hopes to benefit from the anti-incumbency sentiment, which has acquired a sharper edge owing to concern among the people over the rise in the prices of essential commodities. However, the party is riven by groupism, which has been accentuated by dissatisfaction over the distribution of the party ticket. State Congress(I) president Ashok Gehlot, who led the party's good performance in the State in the Lok Sabha elections in February, has been unable to contain the dissension.

Many prominent leaders who were denied the ticket have risen in revolt, and efforts by Gehlot and others to pacify them have been in vain. On a tour of some Assembly segments in Tonk, Bundi and Kota districts, where leaders such as former Union Minister Rajesh Pilot's wife Rama Pilot (from Hindouli in Bundi district) and BJP Minister Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi (from Kota in Kota district) are contesting, one sensed that compared to the BJP, the Congress(I) faced a more serious problem of groupism. For instance, in the Niwai Assembly constituency in Tonk district where Banwarilal Bairwa, the sitting Congress(I) MLA, has been renominated, Asha Bairwa, the wife of the party's member of Parliament from Tonk, Dwaraka Bairwa, is contesting as an independent. According to sources, the official nominee has the backing of Congress(I) leader Nawal Kishore Sharma; Asha Bairwa has the support of Gehlot. A party worker said: "It was a straight contest with the BJP, but now it will be difficult for the Congress. Congress hi Congress ko harati hai (the Congress(I) is pitted against itself).

Talking to newspersons, Gehlot said that the Congress(I) failed to win a majority in the State in 1993 owing to an error of judgment in the distribution of the party ticket. He, however, added that this time the rebel factor would not work against the party.

Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat with supporters after filing his nomination in Jaipur on November 5.-

Two rebel Congress(I) candidates - Shri Ram Gotewala (from Kishanpole in Jaipur district) and Jagdish Tiwari (from Bassi, also in Jaipur district) - were suspended from the party for six years. Gotewala told Frontline that he and other former MLAs who were contesting as independents would form a front that would oppose both the BJP and the Congress(I). He claimed that the BJP's chances in the elections had improved because of the Congress(I)'s failure to field the best possible candidates.

Analysts say that the impact of rebel candidates will be felt in at least seven districts - Jaipur, Tonk, Ganganagar, Hanu-mangarh, Nagaur, Jhunjhunu and Bundi.

In respect of the Jhunjhunu Assembly seat, there are allegations that Sis Ram Ola, MP, who joined the Congress(I) early this year, secured the Congress(I) nomination for his son Vijendra Ola at the last minute after the official candidate's nomination was rejected on technical grounds.

APART from the problems posed by rebel candidates, the Congress(I) faces the ticklish question of who will be Chief Minister, if it wins. No one has thus far been projected as the prospective Chief Minister; in the fray are Gehlot, former Union Minister K. Natwar Singh, former Chief Minister Shiv Charan Mathur, Nawal Kishore Sharma (who is contesting from the Jaipur Rural Assembly constituency), and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Parasram Maderna. According to a senior Congress(I) leader, the person who secured the highest number of nominations for his supporters stands the best chance. However, sabotage by people close to the various power centres in the party cannot be ruled out.

Congress(I) leader Nawal Kishore Sharma, who is contesting from the Jaipur-Rural constituency, filing his nomination.-

In some seats, relatives of senior Congress(I) leaders have displaced sitting MLAs. In Hindouli, Rama Pilot is the official Congress(I) nominee; the sitting MLA, Shanti Dhariwal, was shifted to Kota. Talking to Frontline in the midst of one of her public meetings, Rama Pilot said that Dhariwal had been unpopular and that the "people are upset with him". She claimed that party workers were campaigning enthusiastically for her.

IN addition to the "anti-incumbency" disadvantage, the BJP faces rumblings of protest over nominations, but not as much as in the case of the Congress(I). Soon after an alliance was announced with the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) of Om Prakash Chautala, the BJP suspended two rebel BJP candidates who failed to withdraw their nominations in two of the four seats that were set aside for the INLD. Reaching an alliance with the INLD, ostensibly with an eye on Jat votes, proved to be messy. Initially it was announced that the BJP had given six seats to the INLD; within 24 hours the number was increased to seven, only to be brought down to four after the INLD reportedly "realised that it did not have enough candidates to contest from all the seven seats".

Like the Congress(I), the BJP faces rebel candidates in at least seven districts; both parties admit to the presence of rebel candidates but each insists that the rebellion is worse in the other party.

THE issues that the Congress(I) raises in the campaign are price rise, corruption, atrocities against Dalits, women and minorities, maladministration, the deteriorating law and order situation, problems in the supply of electricity faced by farmers and the failure to decentralise powers. A tour of some constituencies showed that local developmental problems and corruption would be the pivotal points of the campaign of the Opposition parties in the State. The BJP's move to "saffronise" the educational curriculum is certain to be raised as an issue by the Left parties.

The BJP has sought to highlight the developmental work done in the State in the last eight years under Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. It also tried to whip up support on the issue of the Pokhran nuclear tests. In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP campaigned on the development plank, claiming to have done a lot of development work in the State. It secured more votes than the other parties in only 56 Assembly segments; the Congress(I), in contrast, secured more votes than others in 123 segments.

There is considerable public resentment over the BJP Government's failure to tackle the rise in prices and address problems in respect of the law and order situation and power and water supply. BJP leaders, however, claim that prices are not an election issue. Shekhawat told newspersons in Jaipur that the people were "aware of the worldwide rise in prices" and claimed that the BJP would secure a comfortable majority. He said that the elections would be fought on local issues; and that the "achievements" of the BJP-led Government at the Centre would also be a factor.

State Minister Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi told Frontline in Kota that there would be keen contests throughout the State, and that the BJP would secure a majority. He claimed that in the Lok Sabha elections in February, the difference in the vote shares of the BJP and the Congress(I) was marginal, and that "caste equations" and "overconfidence" among BJP workers had contributed to the party's defeat in several Lok Sabha constituencies. This time, he said, BJP workers were determined to "avenge the defeat"; it was the Congress(I) which was complacent, he said. Chaturvedi claimed that there had been "tremendous" development under the BJP Government and that Rajasthan had a much better record in respect of maintaining communal harmony and law and order than many other States.

State Congress(I) president Ashok Ghelot.-

Chaturvedi's claims in respect of the law and order situation in Rajasthan are more than a little baffling. Kota had only recently witnessed the gang-rape and murder of a schoolgirl. One person was arrested - after a public outcry over the failure to nab the culprits - but the other accused, who are alleged to have connections with some BJP leaders, are at large. Kota has also seen large-scale unemployment and industrial unrest after many industries closed down.

The contest in the 200 Assembly constituencies will be keen; there are 1,439 candidates, and although the main contenders will be the Congress(I) and the BJP, the constituents of the United Front are also in the fray. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India have an electoral understanding and will contest 14 and 17 seats respectively. According to Ravinder Shukla, member of the State Secretariat of the CPI(M), they would extend support be extended to secular and non-communal parties.

The secretary of the State unit of the CPI(M), Hari Ram Chauhan, a veteran Communist leader, will contest from Alwar. The other prominent candidates are Het Ram Baniwal from Sangaria and Amra Ram, a sitting MLA, from Dhod. In the Sikar parliamentary constituency, where the CPI(M) fared rather well in the last elections, the party is contesting four seats and hopes to win a few.

The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha have fielded 125 and 112 candidates respectively. The Samata Party too has fielded some candidates, but it has not entered into any formal alliance with the BJP.

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