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Can Gehlot Make It Two In A Row?

By RAMESH MENON
November 22, 2023 10:01 IST
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The fact that Gehlot has stayed relevant these five years with his populist schemes is one reason why he may beat incumbency in a state that votes for change every election, observes Ramesh Menon.

IMAGE: Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, senior party leaders Ashok Gehlot and C P Joshi release the Congress manifesto for the Rajasthan assembly elections in Jaipur, November 21, 2023. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ashok Gehlot/Twitter
 

Both the Congress and the BJP desperately want to win the Rajasthan elections with good reason.

The Congress wants to be in power in the states to bolster its growth and the BJP wants to consolidate its position in the states after its loss in Karnataka.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has carefully crafted his strategy of reaching out to the masses with numerous welfare schemes for women and disadvantaged communities.

He promised cooking gas cylinders at Rs 500 to 10.5 million families. Female heads of families will be given an annual honorarium of Rs 10,000 in installments.

He has also a bag of freebies on offer. One of them is a laptop for first-year students in government colleges. Another is the accessibility of English medium education to all.

There is also an emergency relief insurance guarantee of up to Rs 15 lakh (Rs 1.5 million) during critical situations.

To boost agriculture and environmental sustainability, he has offered to provide cow dung at the cost of Rs 2 a kilo to farmers.

He also plans to get back the old pension scheme that will help pensioners.

To beat the BJP propaganda machine, Gehlot splashed national and regional papers with huge ads showcasing his work in the last five years.

But it is not all smooth sail sailing.

The BJP is putting up a strong fight and not cutting corners while doing it in spite of infighting.

It has brought in Vasundhara Raje, the former chief minister, who was sidelined all these five years.

She was hesitatingly brought in to contest from Jhalara Patan as she has support at the grassroots all over the state and could play spoiler.

Many of her loyalists who were going to be denied tickets earlier have now been given tickets.

However, Raje has not been named the BJP'S chief ministerIAL candidate and it is well known that she does not get on well with the party high command in Delhi.

Rajendra Rathore, who is leader of the Opposition and a seven-time BJP MLA, defended the party's action saying that since it had Prime Minister Narendra D Modi's face, it was good enough and the decision on who should be chief minister would come after the election results.

Modi at one rally said that the BJP has only one face and that is of the Lotus.

Sidelining Raje may not be the best strategy for the BJP. When it did that with other state leaders, it lost.

Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka should have been glaring examples of that.

Voters in the state do not get swayed by Modi or central leaders as ultimately they have to deal with the state leaders and rely on them for good governance.

It can also hit regional pride when a local leader is looked down upon.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra D Modi with C P Joshi, who heads the party in Rajasthan, at an election meeting in Jodhpur. Photograph: ANI Photo

The fact that the BJP has chosen to field some of its MPs in the assembly election has not been taken kindly by the local populace.

In many places, there have been open revolts on the streets as local leaders were denied tickets.

The Congress is using this fact to say that these MPs are not going to get tickets for the parliamentary elections and so are being accommodated in the state elections.

The BJP also brought in leaders from the Centre to firefight in Rajasthan. Like South Delhi MP Ramesh Bidhuri who recently got a show cause notice from the party for abusing a fellow MP in Parliament.

He has been made the election-in-charge of the Tonk district. It has not been taken well by party loyalists.

In many places, there were open revolts and protests against the BJP by its workers.

MP Rajyavardhan Rathore who was being fielded from Jhotwara was confronted with black-waving BJP workers who did not want him contest. The retired colonel shifted to the Taranagar constituency which is comparatively safer.

Similarly, the election cavalcade of MP Deviji Patel, who is being fielded from Sanchore, was pelted with stones. All this is not good news for the BJP.

IMAGE: Congress leader Ashok Gehlot at an election meeting in Rajasthan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ashok Gehlot/Twitter

The fact is that apart from Vasundhara Raje, the BJP does not have a face that will pull in votes. Ironically, they do not want her around in a patriarchal-driven state.

If the BJP wins and she is not crowned, she will not be silent. She has a remarkable loyal standing among the electorate and she knows that.

The BJP will realise this in case they win and try to replace her with Diya Kumari from the erstwhile Jaipur royal family who is an MP from Rajasamand.

She has been given a ticket from the Vidyadhar Nagar constituency that was earlier held by five-time MLA Narpat Singh Rajvi who had won with over 30,000 votes in the last assembly election.

He is the son-in-law of former CM Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. BJP supporters have not taken kindly to the way he has been treated.

But the reality is that Kumari is close to the party leadership and has won their confidence as they would rather have the state chief minister listen to them and not have an independent stand like Raje did who refused to bend down to party dictates from Delhi.

Political circles in the state talk about how it would be foolhardy to replace the experienced Raje with Kumari who has no legislative experience and will not be accepted by the party rank and file.

Rajvi minced no words when he questioned how the BJP gave Kumari a ticket when it was a historic fact that her family had connived with the Mughals and fought against Rana Pratap who is greatly respected in the state.

IMAGE: BJP national Vice-President Vasundhara Raje and her son Dushyant Singh, MP, left, at the nomination rally of party candidate Vitthal Shankar Awasthi from the Bhilwara constituency, November 4, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

In 2018, the BJP won 71 seats compared to the Congress' 100. Many ministers in Raje's government lost.

Some seats were lost by narrow margins and that is the BJP's hope this time that it will ride on anti-incumbency and improve its vote share.

In 2018, the Congress garnered 39.30 percent of votes while the BJP secured 38.77 percent.

Another hope the BJP is clinging to is that it won 24 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in 2019. The Congress lost all seats.

IMAGE: Congress leaders Sachin Pilot, Govind Singh Dotasra, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ashok Gehlot, C P Joshi, Jitendra Singh, Pramod Tiwari and others at the release of the Congress manifesto for Rajasthan assembly elections in Jaipur, November 21, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Congress learned from the last Karnataka elections how it is best to bury the hatchet among state leaders and present a show of unity.

In Rajasthan, Gehlot has not had an easy time dealing with former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot who openly attacked the government time and again on various charges like corruption not being addressed.

But now seemingly work together as they know there is no other way.

The winning margins are thin and one wrong step may end up losing the chance to form a government again.

In the run-up to the polls, the Congress has aggressively highlighted its schemes which claim to lessen the gravity of the price rise with subsidies and doles built in to help the poor.

One can see it in the regions of Marwar, Mewat, Ajmer, Hadoti, Jaipur, Shekhavati and others.

In meeting after meeting, Gehlot emphasised his game plan of savings, relief and growth as a strategy to fight poverty and ensure development.

If he gets another term, credit has to go to his various populist schemes.

Voters among the backward castes, tribals and women feel that they have been looked after.

It has been difficult for the BJP to fight this strategy and so it is harping on communal issues like the murder of Udaipur tailor Kanhaiya Lal.

The fact that Gehlot has been able to stay relevant all these five years with his populist schemes is one of the reasons why he may beat incumbency in a state that votes for change every election.

Ramesh Menon, award-winning journalist, educator, documentary film-maker and corporate trainer, is the author of Modi Demystified: The Making Of A Prime Minister.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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