Sandeep Dikshit

He addresses a large rally in his hometown Bharatpur

  • His political options remain undisclosed
  • Several local leaders of Congress take part

    BHARATPUR: Dissident Congress leader and former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh's attempt to carve out political space for himself in an essentially two-party polity in Rajasthan got off to an encouraging start at his hometown over the weekend.

    With legislature son Jagat Singh and several local leaders of the Congress and other parties by his side, Mr. Singh addressed a large rally, where he attempted to appeal to Muslims, Jat and Gujar communities comprising over 30 per cent of electorate in this state.

    Before a responsive crowd drawn from the peasantry and the town's middle class staying away, Mr. Singh signalled a clear break from the Congress by attacking its president Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

    But his political options - whether he would form a party or join a non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), non-Congress political party - remained undisclosed.

    The only State level leader to share the packed stage was state Samajwadi Party (SP) president Pandit Ram Kishan, former MP.

    The speech by the veteran Lohaite in which he upbraided Mr. Singh for his faith in the Congress for a long time demonstrated the chasm with the Nehruvian former External Affairs Minister. The compliments were returned with Mr. Singh retorting that neither was he a member of the SP nor had he made any declaration of joining the party.

    In an emotional speech, Mr. Singh pointed out that he could have led a retired life but did not choose that option because his name had been sullied in the U.N. oil-for-food episode. ``They said I had betrayed them. Such a word was used against someone who was associated with the party's ideology for 56 years. She [Ms Gandhi] was not even on the scene then. I am where I am because of my capability.''

    Before an audience with a fair sprinkling of Muslim skull caps, Mr. Singh drew attention to the Prime Minister and the Congress President failing to criticise the hanging of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In his only reference to the BJP Government in Rajasthan, Mr. Singh described it as ``honest''. Along with son Jagat Singh, the former Union Minister said he was not partial to any caste or community, but promised to lead the agitation for recognising the backward Gujar community as Scheduled Castes and extending reservations to Jats and Meos (Muslims).

    While Mr. Singh confined his attack against Ms. Gandhi and Dr. Singh, Mr. Jagat Singh widened the ambit by criticising former Rajasthan Chief Minister and Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot and Union Minister Kapil Sibbal but refrained from attacking the State Government.

    Mr. Singh had earlier organised a much large State level raly at Jaipur besides addressing meetings in Lucknow, Patna and Thiruvanthapuram.