Rajasthan: Has Baba Balaknath paid the price for shooting off his mouth?

Meanwhile, no place for Vasundhara Raje loyalists in new Bhajan Lal cabinet, not a single Muslim minister either

Is this the chair Baba Balaknath wanted to sit on? (photo: @MahantBalaknath/X)
Is this the chair Baba Balaknath wanted to sit on? (photo: @MahantBalaknath/X)
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Prakash Bhandari

Baba Balaknath’s miracle

Baba Balaknath, until recently a BJP MP from Alwar and now an MLA from Tijara, must be ruing his big mouth. He had brazenly declared before the Assembly election that the Election Commission would not be able to prevent extra votes, more than the number of registered voters in the booth, from being polled. His widely reported comment that if there were 1,140 votes in a polling booth, as many as 1,150 would be polled, may have cost him the chief minister’s chair.

Said to be of the Yadav caste, his non-inclusion as minister has also comes as a shock to his followers from the same caste. Some are finding it difficult to swallow the ‘insult’, while others ominously predict a backlash from Yadavs and Banias in the state, both aggrieved by their poor representation.

However, Balaknath himself is still on the right side of 40, and his chief ministerial ambitions, never quite a secret, are unlikely to die out anytime soon.

Until then, he is the eight mahant of a mutt in Rajasthan belonging to the Nath sect, to which Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath also belongs. He is also chancellor of the Baba Mastnath University in Rohtak, Haryana. Enough to keep him too busy to stir the pot further, hopefully?

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There, but not quite

Former chief minister Vasundhara Raje was most conspicuously absent when new incumbent Bhajan Lal Sharma’s ministers were being sworn in. Although 43 of the 115 MLAs from the BJP are said to be Raje loyalists — several of them ministers in her cabinet — none have found a place in the new ministry.

Former CM Vasundhara Raje was conspicuously absent as new incumbent Bhajan Lal Sharma’s ministers were being sworn in
Former CM Vasundhara Raje was conspicuously absent as new incumbent Bhajan Lal Sharma’s ministers were being sworn in

In the 25-member ministry, there are five first-time MLAs, including Sharma himself. However, he is not avoiding all senior predecessors, the idea clearly is to snub Raje.

Meanwhile, two of the nine women elected on BJP tickets were sworn in, including Diya Kumari, designated deputy chief minister, and Manju Baghmar, who has a PhD degree and is the most ‘qualified’ MLA. A total of 20 were elected this time, three fewer than last time — and nine of them on Congress tickets.

As we head into a general election in 2024 with the BJP at the Centre, for the first time Rajasthan got not a single Muslim minister. Ironically, even Uttar Pradesh has a Muslim minister under Yogi Adityanath. Here Raje loyalist Yunus Khan was denied a ticket by the BJP — and went on to contest and win as an independent candidate.

Two members from other minority communities were accommodated though — Gautam Dak, an Oswal Jain and Surendra Pal Singh ‘TT’ of the Sikh community (who has now lost his ministry thanks to his electoral defeat). Also, every second minister has an OBC or MBC identity.

Another remarkable feature: not a single minister is from Jhalawar, Raje’s home district, which has eight assembly constituencies. The Jhalawar Lok Sabha seat is held by Raje’s son Dushyant Singh, and it is anybody’s guess whether he will be renominated for the 2024 general elections.

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The Chambal riverfront in Kota has all the makings of a crowd puller
The Chambal riverfront in Kota has all the makings of a crowd puller

Nehru on the Chambal riverfront

Nehru’s statue on the riverfront in Kota is reportedly making some people in the BJP see red. The Chambal riverfront, opened to the public barely three months ago in October, is already drawing tourists to the city in droves.

Better-known as the coaching capital for Joint Entrance Examinations, the Kota riverfront project is the best in the country, gushed Shanti Dhariwal, urban development minister in the previous Gehlot government and an MLA from Kota (North). “This was only the first stage, and hopefully the new government will sanction funds for the second phase also,” he said.

While Rajasthan tourism has thrived on forts and monuments, the Kota riverfront is a futuristic architectural marvel created by architect Anoop Bhartia, per Dhariwal. Inspired by Hadoti and Rajputana architecture, the riverfront stretches for 3 km along both banks of the Chambal, at the entry point of the city near the coaching zone. It should be a sure-shot crowd-puller for photo ops, but given the BJP’s visceral hatred of Nehru, its future stands in some doubt.

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Cooperative federalism?

For the past five years, the Union government has shown little interest in the Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project. Yet before the last Assembly election in 2018, Prime Minister Modi had promised that it would be prioritised as a national project. Possibly his ardour cooled when the BJP lost the election and, despite all attempts to destabilise it, the Ashok Gehlot government lasted its full five-year term.

The water resources or ‘Jal Shakti’ minister, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, taking his cue from the PMO, cold-shouldered the project too. No amount of cajoling by then chief minister Gehlot, who reminded the prime minister and Shekhawat of past promises, moved them in the past five years.

The project would have provided irrigation and drinking water to 13 districts in eastern Rajasthan by harnessing the rivers Parbati in Madhya Pradesh and Kali Singh in Rajasthan. Declaring it a national project would have helped with cost-sharing across the states and also facilitated its execution across state borders.

However, now that there is a BJP government in the state again, both the PMO and Shekhawat have apparently woken up to the need for the ERCP. Officials from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have been invited to sit together and agree on a water-sharing arrangement.

It may all go against the spirit of cooperative federalism, but who cares? The requisite feasibility studies have already been done by the Gehlot government. It now requires just a nudge and a wink to publicise the project as another ‘Modi guarantee’ fulfilled.

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The Amur falcon’s new hunting ground

Known for its deserts and arid land, Rajasthan has a surprisingly large number of wetlands and bird sanctuaries. Migratory birds are a huge tourist attraction not just in Bharatpur but also for Keoladeo in the winter months.

The Amur falcon has been spotted in Rajasthan for the first time
The Amur falcon has been spotted in Rajasthan for the first time

Yet, while birders have over the last few years voiced their apprehensions on the declining numbers of these visitors from the North, this year they can scarcely bear their excitement — Amur falcons were sighted in Jaisalmer for the first time!

The Amur, the world’s longest-travelling raptor, migrates from Russia and China to spend the winter in southern Africa. It’s a roundtrip of at least 20,000 km.

Birder Radheyshyam Bishnoi, who spotted the falcons in Jaisalmer, points out that the falcons would generally stop in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland before flying onto Africa. Although Rajasthan fell on the route, they have never before been seen in the state.

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