Election 2014: No thrill in princess versus pauper in Jodhpur
The Rajput vs Rajput electoral battle has left the spirit in the rural areas damp.
Jaipur: Whenever the general election returns to Jodhpur, it rekindles the distant memory of a tragedy among locals. In the majestic Umaid Bhawan palace, a part of which is a luxury hotel now, it stirs emotions. Democracy did not have an auspicious beginning here, many say.
Under a changed political climate when the princely states merged with the Indian Union, the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Hanwant Singh, just 29 then, had decided to float his own party—Ram Rajya Parishad—and contest the Lok Sabha and the assembly elections. The aviator Maharaja in those days would campaign using the small aircraft of the Jodhpur Flying Club. He himself contested for the Lok Sabha from Jodhpur. People turned out in huge number to vote for him.
In a mood to unwind, he took off with his third wife film actress Zubeida on a Beechcraft aircraft on the counting day - 26 January 1952. At dusk his two-seater aircraft crashed on a dry river bed in a village near Jodhpur. The Maharaja and Zubeida died on the spot. The news of his death and the announcement of his victory in the elections reached people almost at the same time. The royal family took the incident as a bad sign and stayed off politics for almost two decades.
In 1971, Hanwant’s wife Krishna Kumari decided to shake off the burden of the past and fulfill the dream of her husband to enter Parliament. She won as an independent candidate. Since then the family has been active in politics. Later her son also became a member of Parliament. Later, her daughter Chandresh Kumari Katoch contested too and entered the Sansad Bhawan, first from Himachal Pradesh and then from Jodhpur.
In 2009, then chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who represented the seat five times, brought Chandresh Kumari, who is married in Kangra in Himachal and served as minister in Himachal and also as member of Parliament in both the Houses, from Himachal to contest from Jodhpur. She won.
Chandresh is in the fray again. She is up against another Rajput, BJP's Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. The latter is from the RSS background, is a former student leader and he runs a hotel. In a battle that is being billed as 'princess vs pauper', she stands on a weak footing.
She, according to sources close to her, was aware of the anti-Congress sentiment sweeping the region and was unwilling to contest this time. She also is charged with neglecting the constituency in the last five years. The allegation that she is hardly seen in Jodhpur after winning from here has come to haunt her now. She dismisses the charge of the neglect of the constituency claiming, "I did my bit for Jodhpur and got the civil airport sanctioned and also got the work of the AIIMS started. There is a sinister campaign against me by the BJP." Not many are convinced though.
Many are sceptical about Shekhawat's chances too. The Rajput community is in two minds about supporting him. Some feel that in the land of Rathors, Bhatis and Tanwars, Shekhawat is a rank outsider. The Shekhawats belong to the Jaipur region. Though they migrated to Jodhpur long ago, the outsider tag remains. Moreover, he does not have the same emotional traction as his Congress rival of the royal lineage has. The Rajputs do not favour the Congress traditionally, but they are upset with the way Jaswant Singh was treated by the BJP.
What makes the election unpredictable here is the low level of excitement among voters. The Rajput vs Rajput electoral battle has left the spirit in the rural areas damp. While Jats and Bishnois constitute a significant chunk of the population in the assembly seats under Jodhpur constituency, both the BJP and the Congress have ignored the castes. Jats constitute about three lakh of the 19-lakh strong electorate, while Bishnois account for 1.5 lakh voters. Since the latter tend to vote with the Jats, the combination has the potential tilt the balance in any candidate it chooses to back. Since neither have a candidate of their own the enthusiasm is low and it shows in the campaigning.
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