SIKAR

Updated on May 19, 2004 11:14 AM IST

Kaswan has termed this poll as a battle between Jakhar's "Money power" versus "People's power."

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HT Image
PTI | ByRahul Kashyap, Press Trust of India, Churu

With BJP determined to make it his Waterloo, cars bearing Punjab number plates swarming all across this Shekhawati constituency betray the tough battle ahead for Congress stalwart Balram Jakhar, who is haunted by his past "performance" as MP in the adjoining Jat strongholds of Sikar and Bikaner.

Fighting a battle to prove his stature after losing successive battles in the last two elections and earlier tasting defeat at the hands of Devi Lal in 1989 in Sikar, Jakhar is leaving no stone unturned in Churu, mainly in the news for its "highest" temperatures in summer as also the lowest" during the winters.

His rival in the elections is another Jat and sitting MP Ram Singh Kaswan, who has made the "fleeing nature" of Jakhar his main plank.

Kaswan has also termed this election as a battle between Jakhar's "Money power" versus "People's power."

Jakhar is said to be going to New Delhi often, an issue BJP leaders explain saying "if he cannot devote time even during the elections, how do people expect him to be available after the hustings"?

But the Jakhar camp is still riding high saying the leader enjoyed an "international" stature and his position in national politics would benefit the constituency. PTI RK VSC JW 04271041 D

(REOP DEL13)

Jai Prakash, who belongs to Abohar, home town of Jakhar, to ensure victory of the Congress leader, facing eight other candidates, said BJP was on the defensive and his leader would romp home with a margin of over one lakh votes. Subodh, another distant relative of Jakhar from Punjab, said the leader still found wider acceptability among jats as well as other communities in the area compared to his BJP rival.

He said Congress was also seeking votes on performance of the former Lok Sabha Speaker in adjoining Sikar and Bikaner. "People want a repetition of what he did in Sikar and Bikaner in Churu and therefore demanded his candidature from the constituency."

Nonetheless, a sense of worry has indeed crept in the Congress camp and its activists are trying to put a brave front against BJP's power-campaign led by its four-time MLA from Churu and maverick leader Rajendra Singh Rathore, leading to people calling it a battle between legislator and Jakhar.

Rathore is also joined by former Union Minister and prominent Jat leader Jagdeep Dhankar who has been camping here to ensure Jakhar's defeat. "Jakhar has chosen a wrong place. Churu adjoins Bikaner and Sikar. His political failures in the two places are chasing him here as well. In Sikar and Bikaner, Jakhar had promised malta orchards, cashewnut cultivation and grape vineyards. People of Churu are aware of his contribution there," Dhankhar said in a sarcasting note.

He also accused the Congress leader of siding with Punjab on the issue of Rajasthan getting its due share of water from the neighbouring state where Jakhar clan resides. MORE PTI RK VSC JW

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Hoping for a Jat consolidation in Jakhar's favour, Congress expects a major chunk of Muslim votes to be cast in its favour.

Congress, which has support of a sizeable number of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe votes, is plagued by factionalism. In a constituency claiming change of dialect every "seven kose", people are also influenced by the stature of leaders.

Kamal, a grocery shop owner in the heart of Churu, said Jakhar's position in national politics would benefit the constituency which is lagging behind in development works as compared to other areas in the state.

However, to add to the worries of Jakhar, Rajasthan Jat Mahasabha President Rajaram Meel has thrown in his weight behind Kaswan, a fellow jat.

The Churu parliamentary constituency, formed after delimitation in 1977 has elected Congress candidates in three election and also chose same number of BJP representatives in Lok Sabha. In an area dependent largely on rain water for its need, providing drinking water facilities is major issue and Jakhar cites example of Sikar where he claims it was due to his efforts people are getting adequate facilities.

Confident, this would cut ice with the electorate, with almost equal demographic distribution along caste lines except for jats who are dominant, Jakhar exudes confidence of entering the Lok Sabha, eluding him for several years now.

The septugenarian leader fears losing relevance in national political scene with new crop of leaders even in Congress on the verge of taking centrestage and he therefore took no chance about victory, assuming to be certain in this area where the political fate of candidates is generally decided by vociferous castemen. MORE PTI RK VSC JW 04271116 D

Rathore, on the other hand, said Churu has been a graveyard for political stalwarts and this time would be no different. Leaders of the stature of Kumbha Ram Arya were sent packing from Churu, and a similar fate awaits Jakhar as well, he added.

Faced with a difficult choice in opting for one jat among the two, the largely agricluture-based community, however, shows a slight inclination towards the Congress leader.

"Jakhar would project our interests nationally and I hope he will be a better MP than on earlier occasions," said Ram Pratap, on a visit here along with his 22-year old son who wants to start a readymade clothes business.

Kaswan was elected last in 1999, getting 51.66 per cent of the total votes polled against 44.78 per cent by Narendra Budania who had represented the seat in 1996 as well as 1998.

With about 13 lakh strong electorate, women make up for about 6.5 lakh votes in the Churu constituency that recorded a 55.32 per cent turnout in 1999 general elections.

Led by his son Sunil, an MLA in Punjab and grandson Ajay, Jakhar's campaign is a high voltage flick conducted with managerial precision even as BJP got another opportunity to paint the Congress leader as an "outsider". MORE PTI RK JW 04271125 D

Jakhar's contest from Churu has brought the place into the limelight. "Would you have come to cover this place, had it not been for Jakhar contesting from here," Surjeet Singh, a dhaba owner, asked the visiting PTI correspondent.

With Ram Mandir or any national issue not finding a mention here, the polls seem to be based largely on caste arithmetic and a lot depends on the last moment "deals" by either sides.

Bhushan Singh, Office-in-charge of Congress claimed that Jakhar would win with a margin of over one lakh votes. "Jats are overwhelmingly behind us and every caste combination that one can come up with favours our leader," he said.

Rathore, on the other hand, dismissed these claims saying BJP was also getting a fair share of Jat votes along with other castes who were consolidating against the Congress leader and it included Muslim voters, who were now more favourably disposed towards BJP.

The saffron party is also seeking votes saying Kaswan would get a berth in the Union Cabinet if NDA comes back to power and thus he would be able to serve their cause in a better manner.

Churu is indeed a bitter battle like any other but it has become a prestige issue for Jakhar, whose political career would be hit badly if he fails to emerge victorious. And if his plans do not work out, Kaswan would be a giant killer. PTI RK JW

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