Sunny Sebastian

Muslims, entry of CPI (M) add to party woes

‘Some candidates not acceptable to workers’

SIKAR: A one-time Congress citadel, Sikar district is giving out confusing signals to the party these days with the Muslim factor and the entry of two new players, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bahujan Samaj Party, playing havoc with its traditional vote bank in Rajasthan.

The ruling BJP, which could procure three out of the six seats in the previous elections, is looking for opportunities coming out of the mistakes committed by its main rival, the Congress, in both selection of candidates and in the ongoing campaign, to retain its holdings -- if not to increase them. Both the Congress and the BJP have rebels standing against their official nominees but in at least some cases -- as in Neem Ka Thana where the former BJP MLA Phool Singh Gujjar is fighting as Independent -- some of the rebels are there to help their parent party.

The Congress dilemma in this district stems from the presence of CPI (M) candidates in all six constituencies who are now getting support from the Muslim and Jat voters in the area. The CPI (M), which led the farmers’ struggles in the belt and remained an active Opposition to the Raje Government, is now there out in the field to reap the benefits.

The CPI (M), which holds its lone seat – Dhod -- in the Assembly, has come up with a new slogan, “Ek se anek” (from one to many) which may materialise if the traditional Congress voters favour its nominees in two of the four seats it is vigorously campaigning for -- Dhod, Datta Ramgarh, Khandela and Sikar.“We are trying to multiply in Sikar district itself even though we have promising candidates in other areas as well! By all means we have to retain Dhod, which is referred to by local people as West Bengal of Rajasthan and carry on with other seats. The party is getting good response from the minorities for our candidate in Sikar, Abdul Qayoom Qureshi and our icon in the region and sitting MLA, Amra Ram in Datta Ramgarh,” says CPI (M) secretary Vasudev in the Sikar office.

The present holdings of the BJP are Sikar, Neem Ka Thana and Laxmangarh while the Congress had won in Khandela, Datta Ramgarh and Fatehpur in the 2003 elections. The CPI (M) seat, Dhod, is now reserved for Scheduled Castes and the working president of the Congress Pradesh Committee, Parasram Mordia, has shifted there from his traditional Laxmangarh, which is now a general seat.

Mr. Amra Ram is now challenging the former PCC president Narain Singh in Datta Ramgarh. The CPI (M) nominee in Dhod is an old timer, Pema Ram. The Congress’ lone Muslim nominee in the district is Bhanwaru Khan, sitting MLA in Fatehpur.

Apart from the internal differences in the Congress, the party’s problems are also arising from the lack of acceptance of some of its nominees by a section of voters. A classic example is Sikar seat where former party MLA Rajendra Pareek is opposed by the Muslims. Apart from the fact that the community’s plea for a ticket -- there are said to be 67,000 Muslims in this constituency which has a total of 1.90 lakh voters -- was rejected, the Muslims here resent the said proximity of Mr. Pareek to the Hindutva elements. What is adding to his woes is the factor that the CPI (M) candidate is a Muslim. The party nomination for Mr. Pareek, who is the brother-in-law of Uttarakhand Governor B. L. Joshi, had come against opposition.

The BJP nominee from Sikar, Mahesh Sharma, is an RSS worker. He has replaced party MLA Rajkumari Sharma in the seat. “Among the Muslims there is no excitement about voting the Congress and this is a matter of great concern,” confesses Congress district secretary Shabbir A. M. Kamal. “People know me by work and my long association with them. I did not get a house constructed in Jaipur during my tenures as MLA as I wanted to be in Sikar with my voters,” says Mr. Pareek at his residence. However there were not many Muslims among the early callers at his place.

“Raju Saheb’s image is good. The CPI (M) nominee is not a leader of Muslims here to wean away his votes,” asserts Haji Abdul Rehman, the lone white cap wearer among the crowd at the Pareek residence on a campaign day morning. However, Mr. Pareek concedes that there is a Muslim problem with him.

The highlights of the BJP nomination for the district are the repeating of Prem Singh Bagor, Chairman of the Rajasthan Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare Society, from Neem Ka Thana and Harlal Singh Kharra in Srimadhopur. Mr. Kharra, a former Minister, had won the seat as a BJP rebel in 2003. He is pitted against the former Minister of the Congress, Deependra Singh Shekhawat.

The presence of a strong party rebel -- Devi Singh Naruka -- from his own Rajput community, along with the campaign of the BSP nominee Mahesh Meharshi, an industrialist, is posing a serious challenge to Mr. Shekahwat.

There seems to be a coordination problem as well for the good old party. The AICC coordinator for the district, seemingly unaware of the predicament, is trying to monitor the elections sitting away in Pune.