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Key Contests : Balram Jhakar vs Ram Singh Kaswan

MANDATE 2004/ LS CONSTITUENCY WATCH - Rajasthan

Priti Patnaik  |  Churu 

How does one choose between two Jats? Go for the bigger one, of course. This is the pre-poll "oonche gharaane" logic that people in Churu reel out, with the constituency going to the polls today.
The constituency, dominated by 600,000 Jats, will witness former Lok Sabha Speaker from the fancy his chances against two-term MLA of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Banking on Jhakar's charisma and national stature, the predicts a victory with a margin of at least 50,000 votes.
In the previous elections, of the eight Assembly segments under the Churu constituency, the had four, the had three and an Independent from the Indian national Lok Dal (INLD) won the Ratangarh seat.
However, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate can upset the apple cart for the Congress. The party had polled nearly 70,000 votes in the eight segments in the Assembly elections last December.
The Congress lost the Ladnu, Sujangarh and Ratangarh segments, while retaining Sadulpur, Sardarshehar, Taranagar and Dungargarh.
The retained the Churu seat, while it wrested Ladnu and Sujangarh from the Congress.
The hopes that even if there is a 10 per cent swing of the minority votes in its favour, it can change the outcome.
However, locals feels that a majority of the 200,000 Muslims will vote for the Congress. In all, 1,371,454 voters, 656,211 of them women, are eligible to exercise their franchise at 1,451 polling stations in the constituency.
Kaswan has been a representing his Assembly segment at the Vidhan Sabha for the last 10 years.
The Congress alleges that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, however, wanted Kaswan to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha instead.
Four-time MLA from Churu Rajendra Rathore, who is credited with 'knowing' the constituency inside out, has been planning out Kaswan's campaign. Incidentally, his name features in the infamous Roop Kanwar sati case.
A veteran Congress party leader observes that the Congress no longer has the dedicated 'grassroot' workers as it had in the 1970s and refers to the present cadre as 'paratroopers'. On the other hand, the BJP has a more reliable cadre base in the region.
BJP party workers suggest that the people perceive Jhakar to be indecisive and non-committal, as he has contested from several other constituencies in the state.
The BJP feels that Kaswan will be seen as a more committed candidate for Churu, given his previous stints as an MLA from the region.
Jakhar shifted base to Rajasthan from Punjab, when the state was under the grip of militancy. He has contested from both Sikar and Bikaner, which are both dominated by Jats.
He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Sikar in 1984, lost in 1989, and consequently retained the seat in 1991. As a fall out of the Hawala scam, Jhakar was denied a ticket in 1996.
In fact, there was an opposition to his candidature from Sikar that year and, subsequently, he was fielded in Bikaner where he won in 1998.
He returned to Sikar the next year when he lost to BJP's Subhash Mahariya. While in the last elections, Congress was grappling with internal squabbles of ticket allotments, party workers feel that it has a clear strategy now.
The 'water' issue has been flogged to death, in all previous elections, this time being no exception.
Apart from the cadre strength of each party, the ability of the parties to convince the voter about their seriousness in reducing the water woes of the region could go a long way in deciding the mandate.
The Indira Gandhi canal is yet to reach the district, while little measures have been taken to improve irrigation facilities.
Almost 50 per cent of the villages in the constituency have severe drinking water problems.
The broad gauge railway line is the next big issue. The BJP makes no pretense of the fact that it does not have a local agenda for these polls. The party feels that in Lok Sabha elections, the Centre alone matters.

First Published: Wed, May 05 2004. 00:00 IST
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