Congress’s Mahadeo Singh Khandela wept more than he spoke: “Maaf karna emosional (emotional) type hoon”. Tough to say what he finds more difficult to handle: his reaching Parliament or his induction into the Union Cabinet. It is, as Khandela would like us to believe, two jackpots rolled in one.
Till recently, Parliament to him was only a picture postcard. Equally, Rashtrapati Bhawan. Barely had he recovered from the fact that he would now be a member of an institution he had never even seen when destiny dropped another bombshell: a message from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to be present for the oath taking ceremony: “Ek garib, sadharan aadmi aur itna maan” A poor, simple man and such a great honor? This time sobs turn to a wail. He had no time to get new clothes stitched for the ceremony. All that he was able to manage was entry passes for his family to set foot in Rashtrapati Bhawan for the first time. Like him. No, he was not nervous. He just couldn’t believe his luck. Still cannot, he sobbed.
Khandela started life as a villager on the outskirts of Sikar, a district in Rajasthan. The only son of his parents, Khandela wanted to make it big. His definition: earn enough to get his house whitewashed.
Given that his father knew how to count upto 100, Khandela headed for school. He would, he promised, better his father’s record. He actually did: he trained in shooting, was an NCC cadet and actually made it to college to major in Economics. It was now possible to ask for the moon. In other words, get a government job. But 1978 was not 2009: then, luck was not on his side. In 1978, Khandela was not considered good enough to work for the government. In 2009 he became part of the Union ministry.
Khandela’s landing in Delhi has less to do with him and more to do with his benefactor Ashok Gehlot, currently Rajasthan’s Chief Minister. But for him, Khandela would have remained confined to state politics. And rightly so, given his experience as a five term MLA versus his maiden feat as MP. After his rout in the Assembly elections, Khandela contested for Parliament from Sikar and won.
Khandela’s induction in the Union Cabinet is because of his age and caste. Khandela is a Jat. Though not really young, his 62 proved better than Sis Ram Ola’s 82. Ola, also a Jat, was a minister in the last government. This time Khandela replaced him. The Congress, on its part, is keen to send right signals to the Jats given that they are returning to its fold after years of alienation.
For Gehlot, Khandela is a safe bet: “Even if he remains minister for 20 years he will not raise his head” said a Congress state functionary. This, of course, has more to do with subservience than loyalty, given that he revolted against the party and contested as an independent in 1993. Yet Bina Kak, formerly state minister, finds Khandela to be a “nice, very nice man”. He refused to take her home on grounds that his conservative wife would beat him if he was spotted with “baalkati” (trimmed hair) Kak.