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Ashok Gehlot hits a bad political patch

Wednesday September 21, 2011 03:51:59 PM, Anil Sharma, IANS

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Jaipur: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is passing through one of the worst periods of his political career. The Bharatpur violence and the disappearance of a woman named Bhanwari Devi, allegedly involving one of his cabinet colleagues, have turned controversial for him.

The Congress leadership has taken both the issues very seriously and asked Gehlot to submit reports.

Though Gehlot did present his report and even ordered Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiries on both the issues, the party leadership did not accept the chief minister's explanation. It sent a fact finding team to Bharatpur and even started to investigate the Bhanwari Devi issue.

The central leadership does not want to anger Jats and Muslims just before the Uttar Pradesh elections as both these communities hold dominant positions in a number of constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, parts of which border Rajasthan.

"The Congress would not like to take any chances before the assembly elections next year and, in order to prove that the party takes care of these communities, would certainly take steps in this direction. Even if it means taking action against someone, including Gehlot," said Satyendra Sharma, a keen watcher of political issues.

Gopalgarh in Bharatpur was the epicentre of the violence that erupted on Sep 14 when members of the Meo Muslim and Gujjar communities clashed with each other over the ownership of public land. At least eight people were killed and 20 injured in the clashes.

To make things worse for the chief minister, state Congress president Chandrabhan has started blaming the administration for the deaths in Bharatpur.

"There were police and administrative lapses in Bharatpur. Had the administration remained vigilant, violence would not have occurred," Chandrabhan said.

Leaders of the Meo community, to which all the Bharatpur victims belonged, have claimed that the maximum casualties were in firing by police and not by violence by the Gujjar community. However, the state government has denied this, with chief secretary Salauddin Ahmed saying none of the eight killed was a victim of police firing.

In the Bhanwari Devi case too, the chief minister has been criticized for the way he handled it.

Rajasthan's Minister of Public Health and Water Resources Mahipal Maderana, the son of prominent Jat leader Parasram Maderna, has landed in trouble due to the disappearance Sep 1 of the auxiliary nurse and midwife from Bilara area in Jodhpur district.

Bhanwari Devi is alleged to have been featured in a CD, which also shows the minister in a compromising position.

"The chief minister took time to hand over the case to the CBI. So far police have done nothing and the CBI has not yet started to investigate the case. It seems Gehlot was under pressure to not to touch this issue as a prominent Jat community leader's son who is a cabinet minister is thought to be behind the case," said a party functionary on condition of anonymity.

"He (Gehlot) would not like to be seen as anti-Jat, a community that is considered to be a big Congress voter, so it seems that he took time to decide on the matter, which in a way has hurt the party's image in the state," he added.

Jats are a dominating force in at least 40-50 of the 200 assembly constituencies of Rajasthan.

"Now what action the party leadership takes and how many heads roll over the issues is to be seen," said Sharma.





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