The heat is on in Amravati. President Pratibha Patil’s son and Congress candidate, Rajendra Shekhawat, dashes off to the airport to receive Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal.
“The campaign has picked up. I filed my nomination with a huge rally. We are doing padayatras, door-to-door meetings; party workers are on the job; the women’s wing is also active. They are going to colonies and wards,” Mr. Shekhawat tells The Hindu while waiting for the Minister’s plane.
The contest in Amravati is a cliffhanger owing to the rebellion of a powerful Congress MLA and State Minister Sunil Deshmukh. On being denied ticket, he decided to contest as an Independent. He is being backed by the newly formed Republican Left Democratic Front (RLDF) and is contesting on the symbol of television set.
Mr. Shekhawat seeks to downplay the Deshmukh-factor. “Mr. Deshmukh has just seven corporators in Amravati Assembly constituency to support him. They have all won on the symbol of hand. Now, if they tell people to vote for the TV, what do you feel, people are fools?”
In the hurly-burly, Mr. Shekhawat estimates his own chances. “The RPI [Gawai] has supported me. Chhagan Bhujbal’s Mali samaj votes are there. The Balutedar samaj and the Sutar Mahasabha are with us. All associations and unions, industries association, autorickshaw associations are with us.”
All the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) bigwigs have been campaigning for him.
At a meeting on Thursday, Mr. Bhujbal told the audience: “Independents can never form a government. Is there any party leadership to control or guide them? There is no need to give a thought to the Independents.”
Mr. Deshmukh is the thorn in the flesh for Mr. Shekhawat. However, there are other concerns as well. In the recent Lok Sabha, it was the Sena which led in this segment. Another negative factor is that his base is outside Amravati, in Mumbai. Mr. Shekhawat, however, begs to differ. “I live in the MLA society in Mumbai. All MLAs from Maharashtra stay there. If I live in Mumbai and if that is a problem, all MLAs should go back to their constituencies and should be deprived of their accommodation in Mumbai. I am saying, this is not the issue. The issue is people want the work done. That is what matters and Mumbai is important if people’s work is to be done.”
Focus on employment
Mr. Shekhawat is not an MLA. He makes his political debut this Assembly election.
The thrust of his campaign is eradicating unemployment. “There are a large number of youth. I think industries should come here. At least 5,000 jobs should be created to get things moving. Already it’s a backward zone.”
The Congress choice of Mr. Shekhawat for Amravati is puzzling. His father Devisingh Shekhawat had lost his deposit in the 1995 Assembly elections. He was trounced by the BJP, which is also a force to reckon with. It was Mr. Deshmukh who brought back the Congress reign.
Asked if he got the ticket because he is the President’s son, Mr. Shekhawat replied it was because of his work. “I have worked in the party for 10 years. In fact, I joined it when I was 10. I have campaigned for my mother’s elections. If my opponent says I am new, I would like to ask at what age he joined the party.”
The independent rebel is in the thick of things. “I have to do everything on my own. You watch it, I am going to win by a huge margin,” Mr. Deshmukh declares.