GEHLOT’S LAST GAMBIT
CM unveils sops and cash handouts in poll year. Will it stop a resurgent Vasundhara Raje?
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is rolling out a bouquet of populist schemes and direct cash transfers in a last- ditch attempt at halting the BJP juggernaut in the run- up to Assembly polls in December. The cash handouts for pensions, saris, blankets, laptops and tablets total Rs 3,000 crore, despite a stretched state exchequer whose total debt and liability stood at Rs 1.71 lakh crore at the end of the financial year on March 31.
The proposals were part of Gehlot’s state budget in March but the sudden push for it by distributing cash stems from the success of BJP rival Vasundhara Raje’s ongoing Suraj Sankalp Yatra that began on April 4. Gehlot, in fact tried to negate Raje by starting a rival state- wide Sandesh Yatra on March 29 to publicise both his past achievements and election- year schemes. His electoral pitch is direct. “Aap batayein ki hum kya karen ki aap hamein vote dein ( Please tell me what we should do to get your votes),” he said at a rally in Sri Ganganagar on April 9. “Jo chahoge, vahi milega ( You’ll get what you want),” he told people while inaugurating a Haj house in Jaipur on May 6. The state government has also gone on a media blitzkrieg, with documentaries, ads in print and TV and hoardings across the state.
The new- found activism seeks to cover up Gehlot’s singular lack of initiative since his term began in December 2008. His moratorium on raising prices of agricultural power in 2009 and buying costly power without adding a new generation plant has forced state- run power firms into a Rs 60,000- crore debt. RBI has predicted a severe repayment crisis for the state in 2017- 18. Seventy- seven per cent of NREGA works remain incomplete for want of funds. His target of disbursing Rs 1,400 crore as loan among BPL families to build oneroom tenements has been hamstrung by withheld payments, as many people took the Rs 25,000 first instalment but failed to submit evidence of construction to get the second instalment. Villages across the state are dotted with skeletal walls without a roof. In Naal