Jaipur: Where exactly is Manmohan Singh in this election?The prime minister is scheduled to make his maiden appearance in the Rajasthan election on Thursday. The manner in which the rally is being organized reveals how irrelevant the PM has become both for the party and the electorate.The venue of the rally in Jaipur is the Ram Leela ground, which fills up completely every time people from the adjoining colonies have a birthday party. Naturally, the party think-tank is not expecting too many people to turn up and say hello to the PM.Some within the party fear that if things go wrong, the PM may not even get to read his speech. He may be able to save time by having a one-on-one interaction with the small audience.Rahul Gandhi is the partys star speaker. His rallies are not attracting huge crowds either. In fact, most candidates confess in private that if the Congress leaders really want to help them, they should not venture beyond 10, Janpath and 24, Akbar Road. The effort of organizing rallies, generating funds for them and then arranging audience is turning out to too much of an investment when compared with the negative returns. But, at least, Rahul is being treated like a national leader by the Congress.Singh, on the other hand, has been cast in the role of a local leader. His meeting is in Jaipurs Adarsh Nagar area, which has a large number of Sikh and Punjabi voters. The venue and the demographics leave nothing to imagination about who Singh is expected to humour.Unless there is a huge clamour for him from Srigangnagar, which shares its border and culture with Punjab, it seems the PM would not be troubled much by Rajasthan Congress election managers. They would rather prefer the PM to watch the election on TV after his talk show in Adarsh Nagar.Singh isnt missing from rallies alone. In the hurly burly of elections, amidst the muck-raking on Feku and Pappu and the debate on who owns the Patel legacy, the other Sardar has been completely forgotten in the election.Nobody in the Congress is talking about him. Even the partys future PM is on MMS mode on the current PM. On Tuesday, Rahul Gandhi addressed two rallies in Rajasthan. At Bikaner he spoke for nearly 15 minutes. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlotji figured in his speech many times. He mentioned Gehlots rival CP Joshiji once. Even Indira Gandhi was there, though not as a subject of another tale; but the PM was missing.Gehlot, on his part, pats his own back with liberal use of words like shandaar and historic for his own government; profusely thanks Soniaji and Rahulji but seldom mentions the PM.There is not a single poster of the PM; his face doesnt smile from any Congress banner and even on pamphlets he remains a small dot amidst a sea of faces, identifiable mainly because of the presence of a turban in the frame. Just like PV Narasimha Rao, the Congress has made a clean break from every memory of the PM.The strategy seems to be working. MMS jokes that were a staple of the election debates till recently, have gone out of circulation. The BJP, whose leader Vasundhara Raje would attack the PM once or twice during her Suraaj Yatra, has forgotten him completely. And Modi seems happy attacking Sonia, Rahul and Gehlot.The BJP may not have realized this but the absence of the PM from the debate has helped the Congress divert attention from the anger against UPA-2. Pre-poll surveys on Rajasthan have shown that inflation and corruption are among the biggest issues for voters. By not invoking Singhs name, the BJP has left the anger untapped.Singhs absence has thus turned the election into a mashup of local issues, a referendum on Gehlots performance and a semi-final before the Modi-Rahul grand finale. The man who was the UPA governments face only a few years ago, is not even a footnote worthy of either pity or scorn.
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