Sushila Bangaru Laxman hopes to unseat Buta
Sushila Bangaru Laxman is waging a battle to give a new lease of life to her husband's career that went crashing down after the Tehelka expose.
Sushila Bangaru Laxman is waging a battle to give a new lease of life to her husband's political career that went crashing down after the Tehelka expose, and is locked in a battle with wily old Congress warhorse Buta Singh, who fears political obscurity in the face of a lurking defeat.
Sushila, campaigning with a missionary zeal to lift her husband from political oblivion after the former BJP President's infamous tryst with destiny in the cash-on-camera scam, is one of the latest entrants to the BJP. Laxman himself once contested from this constituency and lost.
Appearing far from being a political novice, she has picked up bits of Marwari that strikes an amusing chord with people of one of the most backward constituencies in Rajasthan. "I have always been with my husband and politics comes easily," she said.
"Anyway, the kind of love and affection I have received in the last 25 days of campaigning, I do not feel being new to the place," she told PTI.
Not many would agree. At least not Buta Singh. "I pity the poor lady. She doesn't know ABC of the place. I don't know why BJP fielded her against me. It is an insult to the people of Jalore and they will not forgive the party," he told PTI.
The saffron party, after denying ticket to Laxman, who had contested from the same seat in 1999 but lost to the former Union Home Minister, chose his better half in the attempt to dislodge the Congress stalwart, who is campaigning after receiving treatment for a near-fatal accident for about one and half month.
Campaigning from a makeshift ambulance, seated on a stretcher with steel braissiere attached to his head to prevent further injury, Singh hopes to ride on a sympathy wave in his favour and people do come to see him in large numbers wherever he undertakes his roadhows.
Whether these numbers would also translate into votes on May five, however, remains to be seen.
The ghost of Tehelka chases the Laxman duo here as well. Raking up the issue, Singh said "people know about it. They are aware of the fact that not Sushila but Bangaru Laxman, who was seen by all taking bribe, is actually fighting the elections.
"They also know that it was this lady who had kept that money and is an equal partner in that crime," Singh who brought Jalore to country's limelight after contesting from this place for the first time in 1984, said.
Rebutting this, BJP leader and member of the party's state executive Ranveer Singh Balawat said that "in this backward area where literacy level is abysmally low, except in the urban pockets, people are not even aware of the controversy.
In fact charges of taking commission in allocation of MP funds by Buta Singh is a bigger controversy." Sushila also discounts any effect of the Tehelka episode. "It is not an issue at all. People are more bothered about their daily problems like water, roads, schools and other things than Tehelka."
BJP is giving Singh a run for his money, with its campaigning on a war footing. The RSS cadres including the VHP have joined the canvassing in full swing and were seen asking voters to cast their ballot only in favour of candidates who would protect Hindu interests, and made clear it was none other than the BJP.
"Our cadres are united against a Congress which is inflicted with dissension. We have every reason to win this election and are leaving nothing to chance," Jalore BJP MLA Jogeshwar Garg said.
The BJP blitzkrieg is being led by Laxman himself and is joined by other party leaders including Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, credited with providing rail link with South India and Gujarat where a large section of the people from the district have gone for jobs.
Interestingly, the season of marriages has come as a blessing in disguise for the saffron party. A large number of non-resident of Jalore are here to attend the weddings and the BJP claims these votes, accounting for anything between 50,000 to 80,000, is all going to vote for the party, said Bhabhoot Ram Solanki, former District BJP chief and leader of the influential Mali community.
The elections raise the importance of sadhus and babas. But here in Jalore, even spirituality is divided on caste lines and each has one of its own gurus.
Singh started his campaign only after seeking the blessings of Shivnathji Maharaj, who has a dedicated following among the Rebaris. However, Sushila is also lays claims to having received the blessing of the venerated baba.
Singh, who regrets joining the Vajpayee government for 28 days, said "I was cheated. After having won the election as an Independent with a thumping majority of one lakh sixty-five thousand votes, I was ready to support any government in order to save the country from another election."
"But I did not know I would be stabbed in the back. And Pramod Mahajan had behaved just like a good messenger asking me to resign from ministership that I had not even sought."
Singh takes credit for all development activity that has taken place in the area. "There was nothing here before I came. Roads, schools, water, TV towers, castor oil mill (now closed) are all my contribution and the people of the constituency love me for this."
Singh's son Sweety, who has contested assembly election from Bhatinda earlier, said his father was revered like a demi-God in Jalore-Sirohi area. The list of his contribution is endless."
In a constituency where caste equations play the deciding factor, BJP appears to have made inroads in the traditional Congress vote banks.
Balawat said a sizeable section of the Kalbis, who voted for the Congress earlier, are now with the BJP. Malis and Prajapats who account for nearly two lakh votes along with Rebaris with 1.5 lakh votes would vote in favour of the BJP, he claimed.
"The BJP which is on a money spending spree this time, is making hollow claims. Our votes are intact and villagers in particular cannot think of voting for anyone but Buta Singh," said Sweety, on a campaign trail with his wife and sister trying to woo the women folk.