“I’m sure I would win by a record margin if I used my mother’s name,” says Rajendra Shekhawat (42), President Pratibha Patil’s son and the Congress candidate from Amravati. “But I never mention her when I’m campaigning because I know I can perform without defaming the country’s highest office by dragging it into electoral politics.”
Shekhawat’s Rashtrapati Bhavan connection has hogged national headlines ever since the news began to circulate that he would replace sitting Congress MLA and Minister of State for Finance Sunil Deshmukh as the official party candidate.
Deshmukh went on record accusing the President of using her pull to get her son a ticket.
He then decided to contest as an Independent, declaring that the people of Amravati knew that he had done more for them in the last 10 years than the entire Shekhawat clan had in 30.
Shekhawat admits Deshmukh has denied him a comfortable run, but dismisses the latter’s allegations.
“Every hardworking Congressman is given a chance to contest,” he says. “I cannot change the fact that I’m Pratibhatai’s son.”
But while Shekhawat may insist this election has nothing to do with his mother — “I called her three days ago and sought her blessing, but I haven’t spoken to her since,” he says — the voters see it differently.
Some say they will vote for the first-time candidate because he is the official Congress candidate, but most admit that it’s also because he is the President’s son and could use that unbeatable clout do wonders for the region.
“He recently started three train services, got a railway station makeover sanctioned and proposed development schemes worth over Rs 1,000 crore, and he wasn’t even an MLA yet,” says Shekhar Kadu (22), a post-graduate student. “He could transform Amravati if he wins.”
Deshmukh, meanwhile, is betting his candidature on the fact that Shekhawat just got started, while he has been here 10 years, helping Amravati attract more corporations, improve its roads and rebuild its sewage pipes.
His rallies are packed with supporters, and his campaign is being run by hordes of former Congress workers who have switched sides with him and are now on a mission to see him win.
“I rebelled because the people wanted me to contest,” says Deshmukh. “My friends and supporters are working overtime to ensure my victory over the evil that has the name of political legacy.”
Deshmukh, a radiologist and lecturer who has worked his way up from university-level student politics, quotes extensively from the Ramayana and Mahabharata as he talks to his voters.
“Remember that you have to defeat the people [Shekhawats] who have adopted Ravana’s and Kaurava’s philosophy,” he says at one rally. “You must help me convey the message to all of India that misuse of power will not work every time.”
Shekhawat is unruffled, and confident that he will win.
“My opponent doesn’t understand that what matters is party,” he says. “Building a couple of flyovers and roads do not mean overall development.”
Meanwhile, low-profile BJP candidate Pradip Shingore is banking heavily on the division of votes between Shekhawat and Deshmukh.
“I’m working in my own style,” he says. “My party workers are going door-to-door… we’re confident we’ll scrape through.”