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Ashok Gehlot revives a poll battle with rival from varsity days

Indian Express 2018-12-05 04:16:20
CAN GEHLOT HAND IT TO PARTY ONCE MORE? Congress members campaign for Ashok Gehlot at Sardarpura constituency in Jodhpur. (Express Photo)

In Sardarpura, a locality considered the heart of Jodhpur — the Blue City, with many houses painted blue — Rajendra Solanki, 64, is a busy man these days.

On a balmy winter afternoon, a local Congress leader stood on a makeshift dais, held a microphone, and announced, “Your vote will change the past five years of misrule by the BJP…. Ashok Gehlot-saab is not here, but consider Solanki-ji as his representative and vote for the Congress.”

As the motley crowd cheered, Solanki, Gehlot’s campaign in-charge in the constituency, spoke with party workers, making sure every fine detail of the campaign plan is followed and Gehlot is elected from Sardarpura for the fourth consecutive time since 1998, the year he became chief minister for the first time.

A former chairman of Jodhpur Development Authority who claimed to have been an associate of the former CM since the “first university election Gehlot-saab had contested”, Solanki said Gehlot has held public meetings and door-to-door campaign “in major areas such as Sainikpuri, Roop Nagar and Vidhya Nagar”.


With Gehlot taking part in election rallies across the state for other Congress candidates, Solanki, with his team, is holding the fort in Jodhpur.

And this is where the BJP has found an opening to attack the Congress candidate. That “first university election” Solanki speaks of was back in 1968-69. It had come as a disappointment for Gehlot, who lost to the ABVP candidate, Shambhu Singh Khetasar. Four decades on, Khetasar is the man taking on Gehlot from Sardarpura. He had contested in 2013, too, against Gehlot, and lost heavily — by 18,473 votes — in an election the BJP won emphatically.

Calling it Gehlot’s “campaign by proxy”, Khetasar narrated a tale from the Ramayan, when Bharat ruled Ayodhya for the duration Ram was in exile and put Ram’s sandals on the throne as his representative. “I have been present here all along, going door to door, but Gehlot is campaigning through proxies. He comes here for very short time,” he said.

He said, “I had defeated Gehlot in his first student elections in 1968-69 but lost to him in 2013. I was new to the constituency then, but this year I am prepared and confident: I will defeat Gehlot.

Gehlot, he said, is “a leader who went away after filing his nominations, and others are campaigning for him”.

Khetasar, a Rajput who comes from Osian, in Jodhpur district, alleged that Gehlot mostly stays away from the constituency after getting elected, and the previous Congress government under him did very little development work in the area.

Many local residents, however, dismissed that charge – they said it’s not an unlikely sight to find the former CM taking a stroll in the constituency, or casually shuffling in and out of shops and interacting with the people.

“He often comes to my shop, chats with people. It’s hard at such times to believe we are speaking with a former CM. That he is so accessible and down-to-earth is what makes Ashok-ji so popular in Sardarpura,” said Raghuveer Sain, who owns a barber shop.

Hamid Khan, who owns a dry-cleaning business, said, “Ashok-ji came here regularly right from his college days. It hasn’t changed to this day – you can occasionally see him coming to Sardarpura in an auto-rickshaw. He remembers people he has spoken to even once, and asks us about our well-being.”


Hoping that Gehlot becomes the CM for a third time, local resident Akram Khan said, “Jodhpur and Sardarpura is synonymous with Ashok Gehlot.”