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HindustanTimes Fri,31 Oct 2014

With love from Pakistan, rebel Jaswant takes on BJP tomorrow

Arvind Singh, Hindustan Times  Jaipur, April 16, 2014
First Published: 15:34 IST(16/4/2014) | Last Updated: 15:39 IST(16/4/2014)
In 2006, Jaswant Singh had visited the shrine of Hinglaj Mata in the Sindh region of Pakistan. A religious leader of the Sufi sect had organised a dinner for Singh.  The shrines of Hinglaj Mata and the Sufi sect are close by.
 
The host, Pir Pagara Syed Mardan Shah, was an influential leader of the Muslim Sufi order of the Hurs. He was the president of political outfit Pakistan Muslim League (F). After his death in 2012, Pir Shibghatullah Shah has succeeded his father.
 
According to the BJP, the new pir has not forgotten Singh, who has been expelled by the party and is fighting as an Independent from home turf Barmer against the BJP's official candidate. Pir Shibghatullah Shah has reportedly asked his followers in Barmer to vote for the veteran leader. 
 
In the 1.65-million-strong electorate of Barmer (which shares a border with Pakistan), Muslims account for 213,000 voters.  Many of them are Sindhi-Muslims and revere Pir Shibghatullah Shah.
 
According to state BJP vice-president Onkar Singh Lakhawat, a Pakistani spiritual leader is "meddling in Rajasthan's politics" to help Singh, who was expelled for the first time in 2009 for praising Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his book and was re-inducted later.
 
Political analyst Bhavani Singh Deora said, "The BJP is expected to be on the back foot in Barmer as the message to support Jaswant Singh has been sent out by the shrine of Pir Pagara in Pakistan, which is revered by Sindi-Musalmans living on both sides of the border."
 
In Barmer, Dalits (255,000) and Rajputs (210,000) also constitute a large part of the total electorate. Jaswant is believed to have a strong support base among both the communities, which also have their roots in Pakistan.
 
Locals say that during his stint as the foreign minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Singh had helped many families to visit their birthplace in Pakistan by helping them get visas.
 
In Elections 2014, the Congress and the BJP have fielded sitting MP Harish Chaudhary and Sonaram Chaudhary, respectively. Both of them are from the Jat community, which is the dominant section in the Barmer constituency and account for 329,000 voters.
 
"Three communities in Barmer namely Sindhi-Musalmans, Rajput and Meghwal and other Dalits have a strong Pakistan connection. Now, since both the parties (Congress and BJP) have fielded Jats, these three communities will now decide the fate of the Barmer seat," said Sangeeta Pravanendra, a senior journalist.
 
Meghwals are Dalits living on both sides of the border. Fearing persecution, a large section of the community has come to India through Samjhauta Express, which connects Jodhpur to Karachi, over the past few years.
 
Addressing a recent rally at Pachpadra in Barmer, BJP's prime minister nominee Narendra Modi had promised protection to Pakistani Hindus fleeing religious persecution in the neighbour country.

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