For the last five nights, villagers of Khachariawas had been awake, reciting prayers for Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in a local temple. On Thursday evening, villagers of the nearby Losal panchayat also joined the chorus — but for his rival Pratibha Patil.
The Presidential election may be a political battle for people across the country, but it is a fight between bahu and beta for the residents of these two villages in Sikar district of Rajasthan.
Shekhawat's Rajasthan connection is well known. But not many are aware that Patil is married to Devisingh Shekhawat of Losal Chhoti, barely 30 km from the Vice-President's village Khachariawas.
“Her father-in-law left Losal nearly 70 years ago to start a business at Jalgaon. But more than two dozen members of the family still live at Losal,” said Devisingh’s cousin Bhagirath.
The Shekhawats of Losal started wild celebration when Patil was named as the UPA nominee. Sweets were distributed and the loud speaker atop the local Karni Mata temple, which was renovated by Patil some years ago, was turned on full volume, exhorting everyone to pray for their bahu.
“She has been visiting Losal regularly. Just before she became the Governor, Pratibhaji had organised a jaagran (night-long prayer) in the Karni Mata temple and treated the entire village,” he said.
The Shekhawats of Khachariawas, where the Vice-President grew up, are already been praying for their Babosaa (respected elder). Since he announced his intentions to contest as an independent candidate, the village chaupal has been reverberating with a common chant — “Raj karenge Babosaa.”
The Shekhawats of both the villages are descendants of Rao Shekha, who is credited with carving out Shekhawati, the geographical belt famous for producing India's top business families.
Though for years the Shekhawats have lived like brothers, the election has injected a bit of rivalry.
“Babosaa is our respected leader. But I would want our bahu to win this election,” says Prem Kanwar, the woman sarpanch of Losal.
Rameshwar Maharia, who has close links with both the families, predicts an interesting fight. “Patil has the numbers. But you can never count Shekhawat out-remember he has been winning since 1952,” he says.