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No smooth sailing for Gehlot in Sardarpura

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, a veteran of electoral battle, may have to contend with a lesser margin of victory this time in Sardarpura constituency in Jodhpur as he faces an aggresive BJP and angry employees.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2003 18:58 IST

Facing not only an aggressive BJP campaign but also the anger of state employees, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot may have to contend with a lesser margin of victory this time in Sardarpura constituency here, than the lead of about 50,000 votes he secured in bye-election.

Once a campaigner of Gehlot in his hometown, Mahesh Gehlot, in the fray as a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) nominee, is also making a dent in the chief minister's secure caste votes of mali (gardener) community.

Although Gehlot is likely to sail through with lesser margin but his close confidant and sitting Congress MLA Jugal Kabra is in grave difficulty in neighbouring Jodhpur city constituency in the face of division of Muslim votes and adverse caste combinations.

Gehlot's brother Agrasen, his wife Sunita and son Vaibhav are leading determined Congress campaigners to keep about 35,000 mali votes in their fold being targeted by the NCP candidate from the same community who rebelled to defeat Congress candidate in last Municipal elections and now challenging the chief minister himself.

There is general feeling among the people that the electorate in largely urban constituency of Sardarpura having 1.85 lakh votes may rally behind Gehlot but even his die-hard supporters concede that the victory margin might drastically come down this time.

Interestingly, within months of Gehlot winning Sardarpura seat in bye-election after he became chief minister, BJP won Jodhpur Lok Sabha seat in 1999 with its candidate Jaswant Singh Vishno taking a lead of about 11,000 votes from this Assembly segment.

Gehlot is attracting some adverse reactions among rural voters too against steep power tariff hike.

Sensing that the mood of electorate was ripe for making a dent in the Congress stronghold, BJP has stepped up campaign in Jodhpur district, which gave eight of the nine seats to the ruling party in 1998 polls.

Jat voters also appear to make things difficult for Gehlot who, they grouse, deprived their veteran leader Paras Ram Maderna of becoming state's first Jat chief minister occupying the post himself.

Jats also give credit to the Vajpayee government for accepting their demand of inclusion in OBC category.

To make things difficult for Congress, BJP sent its senior Rajput leader and Union Agriculture Minister Rajnath Singh who met Rajput leaders to widen his party's support base. he succeeded when former ruler Gaj Singh reportedly decided to extend Marwar royalty's support for the BJP candidate in Sardarpura and Jodhpur city.

However, Congress campaigners in chief minister's constituency seem to be confident of roping in mali community en-block saying rebel Mahesh's vote bank would be confined to one or two Municipal blocks only from where he won the civic polls.

The BJP is targeting Jodhpur City constituency where sitting Congress MLA Jugal Kabra, who was elected in 1998 by a margin of over 10,000 votes, is facing difficulties.

A former Congress supporter and popular Muslim leader Gula Rabbani, who has thrown his hat in the electoral ring as an independent, is causing concern for Kabra in the constituency with 35,000 Muslim votes.

BJP has again fielded Surya Kanta Vyas, a former MLA, who was defeated in the last polls. Confident of garnering about 25,000 Brahmin votes, she also hopes to get a chunk of Rajput and Oswa votes.

However, with clean image of Gehlot and his government's works, including drought relief, prospects of Congress have improved slightly in two other seats— Luni and Phalodi— in the district.

Agriculture Minister Ram Singh Vishnoi is getting advantage of a BJP rebel in Luni constituency, adjoining Jodhpur City, where former BJP man Jogaram is contesting on newly-floated Social Justice Forum (SJF) ticket giving some respite to Vishnoi.

BJP may also find it tough in Phalodi, the only seat it won in the district in 1998 polls. The Congress has fielded a Muslim candidate Jepu Khan while a local Brahmin leader Prakash Chhangani has joined the fray on SJF ticket.

Contest is considered tough for Congress candidate Mahipal Maderna in Bhopalgarh from where BJP has fielded another Jat leader Narayan Ram Bera who won this seat in 1985 on Lok Dal ticket.

Mahipal is banking on the goodwill of his father Para Ram Maderna, a veteran Jat leader and presently Speaker of state Assembly, who opted out of the electoral race in favour of his son.

Similarly, Labour Minister Rajendra Chaudhary, a close confidant of Gehlot, is too facing formidable challenge from BJP nominee Ram Narain Dudi who won the seat for Congress in 1980, polling over 57 per cent votes.

However, Law Minister Khet seems to be favourite in Shergarh where Babi Singh Rathore is BJP nominee. Similar is the case in Osian where a former minister Narendra Singh Bhati of Congress seems comfortable against Banne Singh of BJP.

All in all 62 candidates are in the fray in jodhpur district constituencies and multi-cornered contests, hardly witnessed in the past, may offer many surprises.

First Published: Nov 25, 2003 11:27 IST