This article has been extracted from
THE IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF INDIA , 1908.
OXFORD, AT THE CLARENDON PRESS.
Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.
Head-quarters of a district of the same name in the State of Jodhpur, Rajputana, situated in 27 8' N. and 72 22' E., about 70 miles north by north-west of Jodhpur city. Population (1901), 13,924. It is a large and flourishing town, the home of many enterprising merchants trading, in some cases, beyond the borders of India ; and it possesses several fine houses with beautifully carved sandstone fronts. The town contains a post office, an Anglo-vernacular school, and a small hospital. The principal manufactures are metal utensils and mats of camel hair. Phalodi is said to have been founded about the middle of the fifteenth century, and, along with the district, was taken by Rao Maldeo nearly 100 years later. It was granted to the chief of Jaisalmer by Akbar, and was subsequently included for a short time in Bikaner. The fort, a large and well-built one, with walls over 40 feet high, has a capacious reservoir for water and some fine palaces. About 10 miles to the north is a large depression (5 miles in length and 3 in breadth) called the Phalodi salt source. It was leased to the British Government in 1878 and worked till 1892, when it was closed, as the manufacture was found to be unprofitable owing to the distance from the railway.
The satta bazaar (betting market)
The easiest way to find the satta bazaar in Phalodi is to ask for the way to the Sadar police station. The two are a stone’s throw away from each other, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
Satta is the only business in this sleepy, worn-out city in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur district. Though the market is known across the globe, there is little more than small tin kiosks to show for it. The satta and matka (another form of betting) markets that deal in crores of rupees operate from these kiosks.
“There is no industry or factory here to provide jobs for the local people. After school, it’s natural for them to migrate for higher studies and employment. In fact, most of them are MBAs, CAs, doctors or engineers spread across the country and even abroad. The Mumbai stock market is full of people from Phalodi. And it is this network that constantly provides information and forms the basis of our satta bazaar,” says Anntu Chanda, sitting in the middle of the noisiest part of the city, where people continuously shout out numbers, much like they used to in the stock markets before they went digital.
With the whole nation focused on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, all bets are now on who will form the government on May 23. “We have people from Bihar, UP, Kolkata and almost everywhere. They provide us information on how various caste equations work. We open the market with rates decided by us at 10 am daily. The market is open till 5 pm but by then we would have done business worth crores. People phone in and bet. If they win, money is deposited in their accounts through some mobile wallets,” Chanda explains. “We get calls from all kinds of people. They may be MLAs, MPs and chief ministers. The Phalodi market is known for its accuracy, and therefore, we are in demand,” says Shiv Ratan Joshi, a bookie.
The market, of course, does not stop with the polls. Be it bulls fighting, the IPL cricket season or the US presidential elections, there is always a reason for people to bet in Phalodi.
A speck of clouds in the sky with news that it has rained in Bikaner will provoke a satta on rains for the next 15 days. A group of people sitting in a verandah will suddenly become animated as the numbers rain forth.
“Rain satta is for a period of 15 days. People here bet on not just whether it will rain, but if the rain water will flow out of the rain water pipe on the roof, or if the water will reach the ground. Locals are not required to deposit money since we know them, but outsiders need to deposit cash,” he says.
“The rates may fluctuate hourly depending on the conditions. The two terms that dominate the satta bazaar is ‘khana’ and ‘lagana’. While ‘khana’ is bets on which one has a slim chance of winning, ‘lagana’ has a good chance. On winning, one gets his money back and more, while losing will result in forfeiting the entire sum,” explains Kanwarlal Mali.
“The assembly polls saw Phalodi do business worth crores of rupees. This is in our blood and even a six-yearold will pick it up fast by the grace of Latiyalal Mata, who is our God,” Mali adds.
Political trends revealed by betting patterns
From the betting market that has earned a name for its poll predictions to Jaipur, Rajasthan is in the grip of election fever.
On the fringes of the great Thar desert lies a remote sandy town, Phalodi. Trains from Jodhpur, and even one between Bandra and Howrah, pass through the junction at Phalodi, as they travel to the golden city of Jaisalmer.
Phalodi has many claims to fame: once a tiny oasis on the caravan route, it has recently recorded the highest temperatures in the country. The nearby saline depression once made it one of the important sources of salt; and it lies close to Pokhran, the country’s only nuclear testing site.
It is unlikely, however, that Feluda, Satyajit Ray’s legendary private investigator, would have stopped at Phalodi, in search of the elusive treasures in Sonar Kela, the fort of Jaisalmer. With a population of less than 50,000 and a few heritage buildings, the town does not immediately excite attention.
But today, especially during elections, it is Phalodi’s satta bazaar, or betting market, which is the cynosure of attention among political analysts throughout Rajasthan. An illegal speculative market flourishes with the benign cover of the law enforcement agencies. If the police were to act, they would have to close down the town — so overwhelming and all-pervasive is the political economy of the satta trade. The locals claim that the Election Commission can go wrong, but not Phalodi’s betting market.
One veteran claimed that they had accurately predicted Donald Trump’s victory to the American Presidency, while advancing arguments for legalising the satta market in the town. Globalisation creates its own transnational moral hazards!
While the election results are still several weeks away and a month is a lifetime in politics (in Phalodi’s paraphrased view of Harold Wilson’s dictum), the bookies are (with only an occasional murmur of dissent) betting on the NDA coming back to power, though with a reduced majority. The odds, they say, are heavily in favour of the BJP winning 18 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan. In the 2014 election, the BJP won all 25, getting more than 52% of the popular vote.
In the 2018 Assembly election, the Congress was able to form the government, but the difference in the voting percentage between it and the BJP was less than 1%. And if the polling percentage in the Assembly election was extrapolated today to the Lok Sabha poll figure, the Congress would have won 13 and the BJP 12 seats. Clearly, Phalodi’s predictions seem to justify the slogan: “Vasundhara Taireen Khair Nahin, Modi Tujh Say Varir Naheen” (Vasundhara Raje Scindia [the previous BJP Chief Minister], we will not spare you; but Narendra Modi, we have no quarrel with you).
The Phalodi Assembly constituency falls within the Jodhpur Lok Sabha constituency. The BJP’s Gajendrasingh Shekawat (currently serving as Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare) won the seat in 2014 by a margin of more than four lakh. In a political gamble, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s son, Vaibhav, is making his political debut from the constituency.
(The author is a Professor of International Relations at Jawaharal Nehru University and at the University of Melbourne)