A middle-aged woman police officer regulates the security gate at former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s official residence. She sits relaxed, reading a newspaper, as the crowd wanting to meet the outgoing CM is fast thinning. The number of security persons has also dwindled and there are just two or three staff members and two personal security persons posted outside the residence.
During his tenure as chief minister, the state assembly decreed that former chief ministers be entitled to a government bungalow, personal staff, a car and two security personnel. Gehlot has become the first beneficiary of this scheme. He will soon move to a bungalow which is about 400 metres from the chief minister's bungalow.
The last time Rajasthan new Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje moved into the chief minister’s official bungalow, it was refurbished with wooden flooring and the bathrooms were equipped with jacuzzis and imported fittings. She spent over Rs 60 lakh in refurbishing the house. Nobody knows when Raje will move into the official residence, but the PWD department engineers and contractors are standing by.
Gehlot is preparing to move and packers have moved in. He sits in the drawing room sofa above which is an oil painting of Mahatma Gandhi. One can also see photographs of President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Gehlot spoke to P B Chandra.
You have been meeting defeated candidates, what is the feedback they gave you?
They have been talking of the undercurrent and such currents are not visible. But now with every one talking about it I also have started accepting it.
It seems the undercurrent was of a very high voltage as the damage was immense.
All such things are reflected in results. It is needless to talk about it and one should admit defeat.
But how did things go wrong so badly?
Yes, local issues particularly the good job done by the government -- free medicine, subsidised food, women empowerment, free diagnostic tests -- was totally hijacked by the Bharatiya Janata Party. They went on talking about national issues and the BJP's campaign against our government was so intense that the United Progressive Alliance government's failures became major issues and overshadowed the achievements of the state government.
The results showed that the Congress has lost its vote-banks particularly the SC, ST and minorities. How are you going to cover up these losses?
It’s a very serious issue that the Congress did not get a single SC seat out of 34 and out of the 24 ST seats, we could get only four. These seats were won mostly by the BJP. This has never happened before and it’s difficult to comprehend how it happened.
What about the minorities?
This was also a landmark. For the first time the Congress failed to get even a single Muslim candidate elected. This has baffled me as last time there were as many as 10 Muslim victors from the Congress and there were two Muslim winners from the BJP. But while we did not get a single Muslim winner, the BJP's two Muslim candidates won. The candidates have been telling me that even in the case of minority voters there has been an erosion. I did not believe my ears when I first heard it. But the truth has to be accepted.
What happened in your home turf of Marwar?
Leave Marwar. We were rejected across the state and those 21 winners are real good winners who defied the so-called Modi wave and emerged winners on their own strength. I am told in the border districts of Barmer and Jaisalmer, which has a sizable Muslim population, the BJP managed to make a dent and that caused the rout.
How is this that the SCs and STs also did not vote for you? They have been traditionally backing the Congress.
This needs proper study and we need to focus specially on these 59 (reserved) seats.
How do you personally evaluate the massive failure of the Congress?
It was a poisonous campaign carried out by Narendra Modi that swept away some communities and youth in the BJPs favour. It was a sinister campaign where the contributions of the Nehru-Gandhi family were ridiculed. I think the first-time voters and the youth are very important elements in electoral politics. We have to get them to our side as they are the lot that create euphoria during the elections. We shall have to build special strategies for all this.
Are you satisfied with the progress made by the state during your tenure?
Ours was a government in action since the day it came into existence. The various schemes were very well received. Now my fear is that the BJP government may scrap these schemes to the great hardship of the people. I only urge the new government to continue these schemes and improve it if they feel that it was lacking in efficient delivery.
What are you plans?
There is no resting on the oars for me. I shall fight back and show that everything is not lost. I shall ask the party cadre to join me and regain lost pride. I am not gunning for any position I shall do my best and it’s the party that will have to decide what responsibility it should give me.