THE FIRST CASUALTY OFTHE BHANWRI EPISODE COULD BE THE SCHEDULED CASTE VOTE BANK IN THE 2012 UPASSEMBLY POLLS, SINCE SHE WAS A DALIT.
general secretary. While the Maderna family’s influence is limited to a few Jatdominated pockets of Jodhpur, this is the first sex scandal to rock Rajasthan. Gehlot’s government had been charged with corruption and inefficiency. Now sleaze has been added to the list.
Nor is this the only sex scandal. A local newspaper report dated September 29 implicated another Cabinet minister, Ram Lal Jat. It revealed that Paras Devi, a woman friend of Jat, had committed suicide on September 27. Jat was in a zilla parishad meeting at his constituency in Bhilwara at the time. He had rushed to the hospital and insisted on a post-mortem that very night. When told that the post-mortem would only take place the next day, he took the body to another hospital but had to return for want of doctors. The post-mortem did not reveal anything suspicious. But the viscera report is awaited. What was suspicious however was Jat’s behaviour that night. He resigned on November 12 after a report accused him of more affairs with his officers’ wives. He denied the allegations but Gehlot accepted his resignation on November 15.
The first casualty of Gehlot’s misgovernance could be Congress’s prospects in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. Since Bhanwri belongs to the Scheduled Caste ( SC), the mishandling of the case could impact not just the 60-lakh-strong SC vote in Rajasthan but also in next-door Uttar Pradesh. The Gopalgarh incident on September 14, in which 10 Meo Muslims were killed during a police firing in front of a mosque, has already provoked Muslims. State Home Minister Shanti Dhariwal has refused to take responsibility for the incident that happened on his watch. Nor did Gehlot push for his resignation. The fact that, unlike Maderna, Dhariwal was not axed, has angered both the 60-lakh-strong Muslim community and the 32 lakh Jat vote in the state. Both the Gopalgarh and the Bhanwri incidents impact two communities that the Congress is wooing desperately in Uttar Pradesh.
Gehlot himself is all too aware of this. On November 11, he told the media that “the incident is such that it can give any- one goosebumps. She was a Dalit woman and the way she was kidnapped and the incidents thereafter are horrifying.”
The Chief Minister certainly has more than just goosebumps. If he cannot contain the rot, he may be replaced. The Congress leadership already has a succession plan in place. The frontrunner is C.P. Joshi, Cabinet minister and ex-rajasthan Congress chief. An able administrator, Joshi also has Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi’s blessings. Another contender is Jitender Singh, who fits into Gandhi’s game plan of a generational change in leadership. Meanwhile, the BJP has scented blood. “The make-up alone can’t mask the ugly scar that Bhanwri has left. The Chief Minister must quit to pull the state out of such a shame,” says a rejuvenated Leader of Opposition Vasundhara Raje. “You can hold as many meetings as possible with your ministers but the decisions have to be taken by you.”
Gehlot is not the only one scalded by the Bhanwri bomb. Already steeped in several scams, the Congress high command has to fight a sex—and possible murder—scandal in one of its most misgoverned states.
MEMBERS OFTHE GEHLOT (LEFT) MINISTRY
EMERGE AFTER PUTTING IN THEIR PAPERS