Seated on a frail red plastic chair propped on a rickety platform,Natwar Singh,84,indulges local party workers,repeatedly tying a safa around his head,taking it off for another one,craning his neck in and out of floral garlands,and sitting through a lengthy swagat sabha. A good 40 minutes later,he takes over the mike,clarifying he belongs to no party but is here seeking votes for his son Jagat.
In Bharatpurs Kaman constituency,the microcosm of minority politics in Rajasthan since the Gopalgarh clashes,Jagat Singh of the BJP takes on sitting Congress legislator Zahida Khan,who is named in the CBI chargesheet as one of the accused in that case. It is a tight race. Despite Khans alleged involvement in the riots that is said to have alienated Muslims from the Gehlot government,her influence is hard to miss with crowds awaiting her at most public meetings. Khans husband is absconding in a rape and kidnapping case,leaving her to manage her election all by herself.
The constituency with a population of 1.97 lakh has a dominant minority votebank of 1.12 lakh. But a cakewalk for Khan is unlikely with three other Muslim candidates in the fray. Locals guess that roping in these candidates was Natwars ploy to help break Khans monopoly.
Jagat Singh too is aware of the advantage these minority candidates bring. The minorities,particularly the Meo community,are dissatisfied with the Congress for what it has done in Gopalgarh. But religion does play a factor and obviously she will take the lions share of the votes, he tells The Indian Express,on his way from Mehmadpur village to the next public meeting. But my father has had a long association with the region and done a lot for the minorities. There is a soft spot for him.
Jagats meetings are smaller than his fathers. He calls them nukkad sabhas and not public rallies as Khan does. He starts out by introducing himself,I am Jagat Singh. I have come for your blessings. I was the MLA from Lakshmangarh in 2003… I have been asked to come here and work for you.
What Jagat does not tell them is that he was with the Congress in 2003,then briefly with the BSP in 2008,or that when he first joined the BJP he was not given a ticket. This time he has,with the BJP hoping his fathers influence would tilt the balance against Khans dominance. Indeed,Natwar Singh has been campaigning relentlessly,stressing he does not belong to any party and that if Jagat does not work,throw him out,but first give him an opportunity. My son was the legislator in Lakshmangarh and you can ask people there how much he had done for them. What sort of an MLA do you want? One who sits at home all five years and talks of Islam,or one who will work for you?
He slams the UPA for plundering the nation,nostalgically recalls his days in the Indian Foreign Service when he visited 140 countries,and advises the gathering of farmers and labourers to learn English. The crowd is patient,waiting for the speech to end and to grab a free dinner.
It is with The Indian Express that Natwar continues the unfinished story about the foreign minister meeting bright young counterparts abroad. I still believe the youth should enter politics. Look at Barack Obama,Condoleezza Rice,David Cameron. Their reflexes are so much better. Rahul Gandhi is a nice person,very likeable,but somehow he has not taken off. Modi has proved he is a leader…
He adds this Congress is not the Congress he knew,and calls his brush with the BSP an error of judgment.
His son might have taken him to the hustings but he has long hung up his boots. At 84,he says,he has no wish to return to active politics.