NATIONAL

Vasundhara Raje to contest two seats in Rajasthan

NEW DELHI NOV. 13. In what appears to be a "better to be safe than sorry" strategy, the Bharatiya Janata Party today announced that its chief ministerial candidate in Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje, would contest from two Assembly segments, both part of her Parliamentary constituency, Jhalawar.

The party had announced on Wednesday that in Chhattisgarh, its Leader of the Opposition, Nand Kumar Sai, would contest against the Chief Minister, Ajit Jogi, in Mirwahi in addition to fighting the Tapkara seat. There is also speculation that the party's lead candidate in Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharti, may also fight a second seat, Datia, apart from Bada Malera, from where she has already filed her nomination papers.

The party spokesperson, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, today announced that Ms. Raje would contest from Pirava in addition to Jhalrapatan. Both these Assembly segments are in Jhalawar Lok Sabha constituency, which Ms. Raje represents. The official explanation for her contesting a second seat is that this will have a "good influence" in the neighbouring constituencies. But clearly, that explanation would have sounded more credible if Ms. Raje had chosen to contest from two entirely different regions of the vast State.

In the four States — Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — the BJP will contest 583 of a total of 590 seats, giving away only four seats in Delhi to the Akali Dal and three to the Janata Dal (United) in Rajasthan. In Mizoram it is contesting eight seats.

A total of 53 women candidates have been given ticket by the party, just under nine per cent, while the total number of Muslim candidates is less than one per cent. However, the party claimed that its strong point was that about 50 per cent of the candidates were "fresh faces", many of them young and first time contestants. Mr. Naqvi said that it was a conscious decision to give more representation to those below 40 years of age and inject fresh life into the party.

Although there are reports that some State party leaders are even at this stage insisting on changing a few candidates — the last day for filing nominations is Friday — Mr. Naqvi stated emphatically that the declared list was "final" and "no change would be allowed". He denied that there was pressure from anyone for changing candidates.

Party leaders conceded that a problem confronted by it in Chhattisgarh was that the BJP was not at all sure who was in fact in Mr. Jogi's camp and who could cross over later.

A senior leader said that "some agencies" had been asked to give a report on the probable list of candidates prepared by the party before the final selection.

The party seems to have evolved a strategy of showing the Congress party as "ghotala (scandal)" dominated. The fake stamp paper scandal now dominating the politics in Maharashtra has come in handy and the effort during the run-up to the Assembly election would be to bring to the public notice a "scam a day", a party leader said.

On the stamp paper scam, Mr. Naqvi denied that some FIRs were lodged in relation to this several years earlier when the BJP-Shiv Sena combine was in power in Maharashtra. "The `ghotala' started during the Congress Government but I cannot give a certificate that (the main suspect) Telgi was not active before 1999," Mr. Naqvi said.