At 70, with a hobble and diminishing eyesight, culture minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch was not in the best form to contest a gruelling poll battle until the recent poll debacle in the state convinced her that she had to rise to the occasion, one last time.
As Katoch wraps up her political innings, the equations in her Jodhpur constituency are no longer simple.
A Rajput candidate, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is all set to give Katoch stiff competition, backed by a strong BJP support base.
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Katoch has an anti-incumbency to tackle and as she goes to the hustings evoking former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, for whom this is home turf, it might not be a smooth ride for her. But Katoch and her family – husband Aditya Katoch and son Aishwarya Singh – are optimistic of her return.
Katoch first became a legislator in 1972 in Himachal Pradesh, where she was married into the royal family. She has remained an MLA thrice, once elected to the Rajya Sabha and is currently serving her second term in the Lok Sabha.
As the elder daughter of the erstwhile Jodhpur family (considered to be the most powerful and respected royal family in the state) that extended full support in her previous election in 2009 when she changed her seat from Himachal Pradesh to Jodhpur, it was almost a cakewalk.
Her mother, the erstwhile Maharani Krishna Kumari insisted that younger son Gaj Singh, popularly known as Bapji in Marwar region, come out in open support of Katoch, a gesture that greatly improved her prospects. Gaj Singh, who has himself been nominated to the Rajya Sabha once by the BJP government, has remained apolitical and his distance from Katoch’s campaign has led to several speculations. However, Katoch clarifies that her younger brother is an apolitical figure and need not take sides in the poll battle. “My mother was there with me the day I filed my nomination. That itself shows that my family continues to support my candidature,” she told The Indian Express.
Braving the summer heat and grime, Katoch tours the city and interiors of her geographically vast constituency accompanied by her husband and her core team. In a meeting at the Haj House in Jodhpur, she woos the minorities. “I have two families – one that I was born in and another is the Congress party,” she says, aware of the effect on the locals.
“I am thankful to Ashok Gehlot ji for giving me an opportunity to serve you. Samay badla hai sambandh nahi (Time has changed, not relations). I admit I might not have finished 100 per cent of the works but I have tried my best. Marwar ke izzat ka sawal hai, aapke beti ki izzat ka sawal hai, izzat bachakar rakhe (It is a matter of Marwar’s honour, your daughter’s honour, protect her honour),” she tells a gathering of the minority community minutes ahead of the evening prayers.
A little distance away INTUC workers gather on a Sunday to hear Katoch. Here her husband rightfully seeks votes as the ‘jamaai’ (son-in-law). The invoking of family relations might have worked for Katoch in her first stint in Jodhpur but whether Marwar will ‘rise to protect the daughter’s honour’ is for time to tell.