All the development in Rajasthan may
not save Shekhawat's government
Amberish K Diwanji in Jaipur
The Bharatiya Janata Party in Rajasthan under Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has done much for development in the state. Yet, this might not be enough to help it retain power.
A number of factors exist that could harm the party's chances.
Dr P C Mathur, reader in political science, Rajasthan University, has worked on the development of Rajasthan and is all praise for Chief Minister Shekhawat.
"I have never voted for the BJP nor will I ever vote for them," said Mathur at the outset, "but Shekhawat has truly worked wonders for the state. In fact, thanks to him, Rajasthan will soon drop out of the BIMARU states." BIMARU, meaning sick in Hindi, is the unflattering acronym for the Hindi heartland states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the states that are often at the bottom of development indices.
BJP ideologue K N Govindacharya has stressed that his party will use its developmental work in the various constituencies and districts to woo voters lured by the Congress's price-rise charge. But it may not be enough.
One reason is the infighting within the BJP. Shekhawat has undergone two bypass surgeries, the last in 1996. His absence (the chief minister had gone to the United States for treatment) saw a flurry of activity with certain BJP politicians, apparently egged on by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, trying to replace him, a la Shankarsinh Vaghela in neighbouring Gujarat.
Shekhawat survived, but lost his faith in his legislators. "The result of this failed coup was that he now depends completely on the IAS and bureaucrats, who in turn have used their proximity to him to their advantage," a political observer pointed out. This was effectively proved in a tragic case where a minister slapped and manhandled an IAS officer. The minister concerned was forced to resign, which may not have earned Shekhawat too many political points.
The observer pointed out that this dependence on bureaucrats has meant that politicians were unable to push through key development projects, even after the March election result, a charge made, ironically, by the Congress too.
The Congress has declared that while the BJP may have spent up to Rs 175 billion on development, none of it is visible, thereby implying corruption. Yet, there is no serious charge of corruption against any BJP politician in the state.
Shekhawat's distance from the political class has demoralised and disheartened party workers. "Today, the BJP workers don't feel they have any stake in the party," said Mathur, "hence they are not putting in their heart and soul. In fact, there is no co-ordination between Shekhawat and the BJP."
Another factor is that while development has certainly taken place, it is seen as having benefited outsiders. "Rajasthanis are extremely clan and locality-conscious, and even someone from a neighbouring village is seen with suspicion," explained Mathur. "But in all the projects set up, outsiders are seen as having bagged employment, to the detriment of the locals. This has caused resentment among the people."
A series of unfortunate events has added to the BJP's woes. There was the infamous rape case involving a young student who was forced into sexual relations with some men having political connections. The case and the failure of the authorities to effectively prosecute anyone shocked middle-class Jaipur and Rajasthan, the BJP's bastion.
Then there was the incident, just this month, in which a Rajasthan University student immolated himself in protest against the delay in announcing the MA results. "This is really not Shekhawat's or the BJP's fault, but being in power, they are held responsible. And again, that it happened in the university to a middle-class boy only adds grist to the mill," pointed out a local journalist.
The Congress has seized upon the rise in crime, along with that of food prices, to berate the BJP. "Rajasthan has one of the worst records in crime and crime against women," thundered a Congress official. "There is no safety for the common citizens."
Thus, the BJP, despite its developmental work over the past eight years, acknowledged by any unbiased observer, is now facing up to the prospect that the voter may not give Shekhawat and his team a third term.
Assembly Elections '98
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