Jaswant?s son banks on strategy, legwork
The shining silver Armada comes to a screeching halt in the middle of the dusty desert road. The driver gets off and throws a lit match across the road — a mongoose has crossed the road and everyone in Barmer believes a mongoose brings ill luck. Once the bad luck has been banished, the grueling drive continues. This is the BJP hopeful from Barmer, Manvendra Singh, son of finance minister Jaswant Singh, on his election campaign.
"The driver is superstitious," dismisses Manvendra, who doesn't want to take any chances after last time's narrow defeat. "This time round, I am fighting the elections my way," he announces. So he has been camping in the constituency for the last four years, developing a bond with constituents and working towards the 2004 polls.
"This vehicle has clocked almost 1.5 lakh km in three years," he points out. The odometer clocks about 300 km every day.
The first programme of the day is at Thumbli where a flower-covered weighing scale waits. Manvendra is weighed against coins. At 73 kg, that is a lot of coins but he is not satisfied.
"The weight of your coins is more than my weight. You have to vote for me on May 5 to ensure that my weight matches up," he exhorts the crowd. The crowd reacts well to this appeal.
More than Manvendra's physical presence in the constituency, it is the caste equation here that will decide the poll outcome. "After I lost in the last elections, I spent over six months preparing a strategy for the future. My politics is inclusive — sectarian politics cannot work here. The Rajput, Jat, Meghwal, SC/ST and Muslim votes are equally important. And my strategy was based on this," he says.
In Junejo, a small hamlet, Taj Mohammad, the maulvi, announces Muslim support to Manvendra. "Jaswant Singh, the finance minister, has sent his son to you," the maulvi tells his people. "We were told the BJP is against Muslims, but that is not the case. He is here for you. Vote for him and you get the benefit of two MPs," he says.
Wife pitches in
Manvendra Singh’s wife Chitra Singh used to be painfully shy. Now, she’s a different woman. She steps on to the campaign trail everyday, taking with her a team of about 10 women, all wives of local leaders. The schedule is well planned and executed.
“I am grateful for your warm welcome. But if you truly want to honour me, then come out in large numbers on 5 May to vote for my husband,” Chitra exhorts women voters at every meeting.
Every meeting ends with a round of snacks — dry fruits and cold drinks, even in the poorest hamlet.