LS polls 2014: In Rajasthan, CP Joshi is Congress' only hope

Former union minister CP Joshi has a favourite 70mm memory. He remembers going to a theatre in Udaipur again and again to watch Uttam Kumar lip-sync Dil Aisa Kisine Mera Toda in Amanush.

Joshi says he likes the film because of the message it conveys: That it is possible to overcome any setback in life. When election for the Jaipur (Rural) Lok Sabha seat is over, after the votes are counted, Joshi may have to watch his favourite film yet again. For, he may have to soon overcome another setback in life.

Joshi’s opponent in the election is Olympics silver medalist Rajyavardhan Rathore. But his real fight is with Narendra Modi, who seems to be a major factor.

A few days ago, a Congress leader close to Joshi asked his team to pose as journalists and call people who they would vote for. “I was shocked. Most of the BJP supporters didn’t know much about the party candidate. They said their vote was for Modi,” he recalls.

Rathore has done very little to emerge from Modi’s shadows. His speeches are dull; he lacks knowledge of local issues and doesn’t have much to offer except his past; and that of his opponent.

Rathore tries to impress his audience with a brief history of his achievements, tyaag (army), balidan (hours of practice) and shaurya (the Athens moment). He then tries to shoot down Joshi by claiming that the Congress leader didn’t get shelter from even Lord Srinath, the deity of Nathdwara, Joshi’s hometown.

For years Joshi represented the temple town in the Assembly but he left the city after he lost by a solitary vote in 2008. He contested, and won, the next election from Bhilwara but this year he has come to Rajasthan’s capital.

Congress' CP Joshi in this file photo. AFP

Congress' CP Joshi in this file photo. AFP

Joshi, a self-confessed chela of Che Guevara, doesn’t get rattled easily by trenchant criticism. He responds to the bhagoda slur with a logical explanation of his political journey. He talks of the UPA government and its schemes and concludes with an advice: Vote whoever you want, but remember to educate your child.

The Congress leader who asked his team to pose as journalists and conduct a poll argues that he is the last bastion of hope for the Congress in the election. “People have closed their ears to every other argument. They want to just vote for Modi. Period,” he says.

“The Congress had lost 20 seats even before the candidates were announced. It is trying to fight on the remaining 5. Among Congress candidates, Joshi’s chances of winning are maximum,” he says.

Ganesh Goenka, 50, is a Shekhawati bookie who generally gets the trend right. He echoes the Congress fears. “Kahan aa rahi hai Congress ki seat?” he shoots back when asked if the Congress can do better its Vidhan Sabha record of winning just 10 percent seats. “Congress would be wiped out. CP Joshi is the only one who can open the party’s account. Rest of them can start preparing for 2019,” he predicts.

Some locals argue that Joshi would have been out of contention had Vasundhara Raje acted wisely during ticket distribution. “Who knows Rajyavardhan in a rural constituency? When told that he is a sportsman, people ask which IPL team does Rajyavardhan represent? For them the only form of shooting is linked to cinema,” says Vikram Kotwad, 44, and starts laughing at his joke.

BJP insiders agree a Jat candidate would have been a better bet. Joshi would have started with a deficit of 1.5 lakh votes because of the local equations if the BJP had fielded a Jat, they say.

Perhaps the BJP has realised its mistake and is now trying to rectify it. Navin Pilania, a BJP rebel who won the last election from a Vidhan Sabha constituency in Jaipur (Rural) has jumped into the ring as a RJP (tribal leader Kirori Lal Meena’s party) candidate.

Though Meena had vowed to beat Raje in the 2013 election, there is speculation that he has had a change of heart and now wants to destroy the Congress. Since his party’s candidate against Joshi is likely to snare away some of the Congress votes, the theory has several buyers.

Almost a year ago, Joshi had conveyed to the party that he wants to retire from electoral politics. But the high command asked him to contest so that the workers don’t get disheartened. For the party, the battle of Jaipur (Rural) is a symbol of both prestige and morale.

Joshi is hoping that he would win this grueling contest against the triumvirate of Modi, Rajyavardhan and Meena. What if he doesn’t? Well, there is always his favourite song to remind him that no setback is final.