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Shekhawat's Jaipur Arthashastra - The Asian Age

Milap Chand Dandia ()
26 January 1997

Title : Shekhawat's Jaipur Arthashastra
Author : Milap Chand Dandia
Publication : The Asian Age
Date : January 26, 1997

"It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the
heart," goes a famous line, "the one to slander you and the other to get the
news to you." Rajasthan chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was battling
for life in a US hospital when he heard the news of his adversaries' plans to
dislodge him from the chief minister's chair. Doctors had suggested
immediate surgery to remove a severe blockage in five arteries leading to his
heart, providing his adversaries with an opportunity they have dreamt of for
over a decade.

It was the second major heart surgery for the 75-year-old chief minister, but
he battled back to health as gamely as he took on the rebels, single-handedly
squashing them with no help from the central leadership of the Bharatiya
Janata Party.

It was a golden opportunity for his enemies - and like all popular leaders,
he has hordes of them - with the chief minister confined to a bed across two
oceans for at least one and a half months of enforced absence. Anything was

And indeed, the impossible happened: when Shekhawat left for the US for his
surgery, he had 113 votes in the House. He returned home after the so-called
rebellion with 115 votes.

The main player in the coup drama was a Janata Dal legislator from
Sardarshar, Bhanwar Lal Sharma. Sharma should have known better, he has had
ample opportunity to experience Shekhawat's amazing dexterity in realpolitik
when he worked as a minister in his last government. But hope, they say,
springs eternal, especially to a legislator who wove himself back into the
Janata Dal after his desertion a few years ago. Mr Sharma's political career
is chequered: he was elected to the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha for the first time
in 199 on a Dal ticket when the opposition had fought election jointly. He
was inducted in the Cabinet from the Janata Dal quota. But when the BJP
withdrew from the partnership with the Dal in the Centre and the Janata Dal
consequently walked out of the Shekhawat government, Sharma chose to remain
with Shekhawat, forming a splinter Janata Dal (Digvijai). With the help of
this JD(D) Shekhawat retained his chief ministership and Sharma retained his
ministership. And when the Shekhawat government was dismissed in the wake of
the Babri Masjid demolition, Sharma and his colleagues joined the BJP.

The Dal-turned-BJP legislator was not so helpful when Shekhawat formed his
second government in 1993, with the help of independents. Shekhawat was six
short of an absolute majority in the House of 200 members. His dubious role
during that time caused him to be expelled from the BJP.

Ever since then, Sharma has been waiting for his revenge. And the chance came
when Shekhawat went abroad for his medical treatment. He tried every trick
in the book. According to an FIR filed by a BJP legislator at Keshoraipatan
police station, Sharma even offered Rs 20 lakhs to any BJP MLA willing to
vote against Shekhawat.

But Sharma was not working in isolation - the chief minister has never lacked
his share of detractors within his own party, and they were only too willing
to be included in any plans that aimed at evicting Shekhawat, and replacing
him with another BJP leader.

But why should there be dissidence within his own party against a leader who
is called by the party high command to quell dissidence in other states? The
reasons are predictable: MLAs who want more out of the government in power.
The charge against Shekhawat is that he has given undue importance to the
independents who have supported him, even though the party has already 100
members in the house of 199. Aggrieved BJP MLAs feel that Shekhawat is
depriving them of their share of the cake, ranging from cabinet berths to
appointments on boards and corporations.

But those who know Shekhawat well knows that he never bows to pressures, nor
is he willing to desert those who helped him in the past. He had promised a
respectable deal to the Independents who came to the BJP's rescue when the
party's prospects of forming the government were bleak. He now refuses to
backtrack on those promises. Nor is he willing to bend his rule barring
those with corruption charges from his ministry. Similarly, Shekhawat has
stopped MLAs from interfering in postings and transfers, further depriving
the MLAs.

"The only religion," Shekhawat declared soon after coming to power, "that
will guide my activities will be Raj Dharm." The chief minister has indeed
strived to live up to his words, and one evidence of this is the enormous
confidence that the minorities in the state repose in him. Perhaps he is the
only BJP leader in whose house Muslims offer namaz. Shekhawat was the first
chief minister of the state to host an Iftaar party, in 1977. The same year
Shekhawat not only got the Jama Masjid of Jaipur reopened but spent a
considerable sum on its renovation. And among the first things that
Shekhawat did when he came to power for the second time was to sanction a Rs
7 crore-beautification plan for the famous Ajmer Dargah. Shekhawat also
ordered free distribution of books to privately-run madarsas, bending a
government scheme that offers free books to state-run schools.

He insisted on making an example of his nephew who lead an agitation of bus
operators by ordering his arrest. He was equally stem with a delegation of
Alwar BJP workers who called on him with a request to release a worker
arrested during a communal stir in the town. The plainspoken chief minister
pointed out to the BJP workers that being in a ruling party does not give
them a licence to create trouble.

Neither did Shekhawat mince his words when condemning sati after Roop Kanwar
was immolated in Deorala. At the time of the sati incident Shekhawat was in
New York. The first thing he did on his return was to go to Deorala, climb
up on a dais and upbraid the villagers for their savagery, calling it "a slur
on the Rajput community." Sitting in the audience was a staunch believer in
sati, the late Kalyan Singh Kalvi. Shekhawat is a man who believes the devil
must be given his due. He has been known to publicly praise Sanjay Gandhi
for his family planning and afforestation programmes. "The only thing wren.
with Sanjay Gandhi's programmers was the style of their implementation," he
says. Not surprisingly, Rajasthan was the first state to introduce a law
banning all candidates with more than two children from contesting local
elections. Shekhawat's financial management skills are also considerable,
earning him the reluctant praise of the then deputy chairman of the Planning
Commission Pranab Mukherjee. To the discomfiture of state Congress leaders,
Mukherjee and other Congress leaders from the Centre repeatedly praised
Shekhawat for his expert running of the state.

For a BJP chief minister to earn the respect of Congress heavyweights is no
mere fluke of chance or temperament. Shekhawat's skills in public relations
is perhaps the secret of his success. Every visitor to the chief minister's
residence, high and low, is taken to his living room. An acquaintance from a
far-flung village once landed up to meet him late at night. Shekhawat not
only heard him out, but sent his own car and driver to drop the villager at
the bus-stand. It is gestures like this that has built him a base that
neither foe nor friend can hope to topple in his lifetime.

Even Congress MLAs have felt his generosity. One Congress legislator who
approached him for medical assistance for a surgery was overwhelmed when the
assistance arrived without prompting at her doorstep. Another Congress
leader, a former minister, found a state helicopter at his door in the
village to carry him to the state capital when he fell ill. And his
attentions are not limited to leaders alone. Shekhawat is often seen in the
state-run SMS Hospital, paying calls on lesser mortals and even arranging for
their treatment.

In such small deeds lie great power. Shekhawat has completed nearly eight
years in power, a record broken only by the late Mohan Lal Sukhadia.

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