BJP more than eager to avenge 1998 humiliation
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BJP more than eager to avenge 1998 humiliation

Rajasthan's ruling Congress party faces a determined challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party as the state inches towards polls.

india Updated: Oct 27, 2003 13:30 IST

Rajasthan's ruling Congress party faces a determined challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the vast desert state inches towards elections, but these two may not be the only players.

The BJP, with plenty of encouragement from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and tacit blessings of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, has vowed to avenge its 1998 humiliation at the hands of the Congress.

BJP leaders exude confidence that they can oust Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot but admit, somewhat cynically, that this would have been easier if the state had not received bountiful rains this year.

That - the heavy monsoon showers that almost made Rajasthanis forget three consecutive droughts, briefly at least - has primarily boosted the prospects of the Congress, its supporters say.

It was in November 1998 that the Congress stunned the BJP by storming to power in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, giving Vajpayee his first setback after he became prime minister at the head of a coalition government in New Delhi.

These three states, along with Chhattisgarh, will elect new assemblies on December 1. Mizoram, in the northeast, will go to the polls on November 20.

In Rajasthan, both the Congress and the BJP are bringing their formations to battle mode, vying for the attention of 33 million voters.

With 200 seats to be filled in the state assembly, the leadership of both the parties are busy finalising the list of candidates most likely to defeat their opponents.

The Congress faces the grim task of fighting the expected anti-incumbency -- precisely what helped it to grab power five years earlier.

The Congress won a 150-seat majority in 1998, but Chief Minister Gehlot faces his toughest challenge as he battles to keep control of the state, with dissent brewing even within his own party.

"Drought relief is likely to remain the key issue in the upcoming elections," said a political analyst.

He told IANS that dissatisfaction and disappointment among the state government employees and farmers were expected to upset Congress calculations.

"We have got three B's as our main issue to fight the Congress," said Kalicharan Saraf, a BJP leader. "These are 'bijli' (power), bajra (millet) and berojgari (unemployment). These are big issues in this election."

Rajasthan, like most Indian states, faces a severe power shortage. The recurring droughts have affected millet production in the state.

The Congress, on the other hand, is trying to highlight its development programmes, claiming the state had witnessed great progress over the last five years.

"The focus will be the Gehlot government," asserted a confident Congress spokesman Raghu Sharma.

He insisted that the 'Mr. Clean' image of Gehlot, development works and efficient drought management would make people chose the Congress once again, for another five-year term.

But it is not going to be easy for the Congress or the BJP.

Both are facing challenges from smaller parties, including the Janata Dal (United), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party, the Indian National Lok Dal and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).

While the Congress fears that the BSP might poach its traditional Dalit vote bank, BJP election managers are taking the Social Justice Front (SJF) seriously.

The SJF seeks job quotas for the economically weaker sections within the upper castes. Former BJP stalwart Devi Singh Bhati, who leads the front, says that his party would contest more than 100 seats.

The Congress is worried on another count -- the influential Jat community.

The Jats had last time overwhelmingly supported the Congress, but they are reportedly feeling restive because they wanted a Jat as chief minister. This did not happen.

Even the appointment of a leader from the community as deputy chief minister has not satisfied the Jats, who play a decisive role in 45-50 constituencies.

First Published: Oct 24, 2003 13:40 IST