iconimg Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Mukesh Mathrani, Hindustan Times
Barmer, November 01, 2013
In vast stretches of Rajasthan’s sun-baked desert constituencies, where even the sturdiest SUVs find the going tough, the camel prods along merrily.
Here, elections are still slow-paced, driven not by 3G-fed social media and monstrous election buses of candidates, but by the languorous ‘ship of the desert’ which take men and material to places inaccessible by vehicles.

With campaigning picking up for the December 1 assembly elections in the state, camels are once again the ‘poll symbols’ in the remote constituencies in Thar desert.

The Congress and BJP are locked in a fierce battle for the throne with the Ashok Gehlot government facing a stiff fight led by former saffron chief minister Vasundhara Raje.

While nine constituencies fall completely in the Thar desert – including Jaisalmer, Pokhran, Barmer and Chohthan-- parts of at least four constituencies fall in desert areas.

Here, not just political parties but even government agencies have to fall back on the gentle giants to get their work done.

Narendra Tansukhani, field publicity officer of Barmer, for one, knows that in these parts of the world, modern advances still has little meaning when it comes to communication.

He said that in places where road communication is still non-existent, the camel is more than handy.

And these are the areas where voting percentage is very low due to lack of voting awareness. “We are focusing on these areas. But to reach there, it the camel cart which is the only option available. It is the best suited mode of transportation in these terrains,” he added.

The virtually non-existent vehicle service centres in these areas – where the rugged terrain is known to take a heavy toll on vehicles -- is also a major factor which dissuades candidates from using modern mode of transportation.
 
Tarun Rai Kaga, a ticket hopeful from the BJP in the Chohtan constituency and a political veteran, admitted that in the remote areas, there is no alternative to the camel.

“Specially in 2003, the camel cart was most important part of my campaigning. At that time there was no road connectivity in the remote areas. I often used camels to approach the voters,” recalled Kaga, who had unsuccessfully contested the Assembly elections twice in 2003 and 2008.

In 2003, the election department too had to use mobile polling booths to bring in the voters.

In-charge of the election wing in Barmer, Mangilal Jain, said that earlier where there was no proper road connectivity in the remote areas.

“But this we plan to set up the booths where the voters can travel easily,” he added.

However, “easy” is quite an ambiguous term in Rajasthan’s wild west and those who are quite adept at saddling up often wins the race. Even with its laid-back gait, the camel gets going when called to duty.