RE­TURN OF THE RANI

De­spite Rs 5,000 crore in sops by the Gehlot gov­ern­ment, Va­sund­hara Raje is on the come­back trail

India Today - - OPINION POLL - By Ro­hit Par­i­har

Ra­jasthan BJP Pres­i­dent Va­sund­hara Raje was brim­ming with con­fi­dence when she reached her Lekha Vi­har res­i­dence in New Delhi late on Novem­ber 5. The party’s elec­tion cam­paign com­mit­tee had re­leased names of 176 of the 200 can­di­dates for the Ra­jasthan As­sem­bly polls. For next few hours, she had only one mes­sage for party work­ers: “Tear apart the de­bauched Congress gov­ern­ment’s claim about its wel­fare schemes.” Raje, 60, the erst­while ma­ha­rani of Dholpur, is on the come­back trail. The In­dia To­day Group-ORG poll pre­dicts 105 seats for BJP and 76 for Congress.

BJP is do­ing bet­ter be­cause Raje has picked up the right

is­sues to at­tack Gehlot. On Oc­to­ber 26, she tweeted to her 31,000 fol­low­ers: “Ra­jasthan’s Congress gov­ern­ment has not only failed to pro­tect women, but has also been in­volved in crime against women.” In her stump speeches, she re­peat­edly high­lights atroc­i­ties on women in the state, in­clud­ing fre­quent in­ci­dents of ‘chain-snatch­ing’. Naren­dra Modi also rubbed it in at a rally in Udaipur on Oc­to­ber 25: “Does any woman have the courage to meet min­is­ters of this state?” He was al­lud­ing to three state min­is­ters who were sacked on charges of ex­ploit­ing women. The opin­ion poll re­veals that 41 per cent re­spon­dents felt ris­ing crime against women was Gehlot’s big­gest fail­ure.

The Chief Min­is­ter spent most of his five-year ten­ure tar­get­ing his pre­de­ces­sor. The first two years were de­voted to dis­man­tling projects Raje had ini­ti­ated, in­clud­ing a mass rapid trans­port sys­tem for Jaipur and In­dia’s first di­rect cash trans­fer scheme for women. He then launched projects of his own, such as the Jaipur Metro, in­tend­ing to fin­ish them be­fore the polls. All he man­aged till Septem­ber was to get the Cen­tre’s nod for a state-funded re­fin­ery in Barmer. Yet, says Gehlot, “We’ve done well. I don’t trust opin­ion polls.”

Gehlot has bet on a last-minute spend of Rs 5,000 crore through pop­ulist schemes to see him through. Raje is mind­ful of its im­pli­ca­tions. For the past three months, 30 lap­toparmed vol­un­teers have been in­ter­act­ing with visi­tors at the party of­fice and her home in Jaipur to gauge pub­lic sen­ti­ment on the schemes. The team has cho­sen 10 work­ers from each of the state’s 45,000 polling booths for their opin­ion on

var­i­ous is­sues. A thou­sand vol­un­teers across the state send in weekly re­sponses to queries on the ef­fi­cacy of the gov­ern­ment’s poli­cies. Raje per­son­ally goes through the re­ports, keeps a dossier on the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ings, and men­tions specifics in her speeches.

The strat­egy to ex­pose the hol­low­ness of Gehlot’s pop­ulism has paid off, with 53 per cent re­spon­dents unim­pressed by the Chief Min­is­ter’s pop­ulist mea­sures, ac­cord­ing to the opin­ion poll. “Ra­jasthan’s peo­ple won’t fall for such last­minute fod­der, hav­ing been ig­nored for four-and-a-half years,” says Raje. What’s more omi­nous for Gehlot is that 55 per cent re­spon­dents want a change in gov­ern­ment, with only 37 per cent want­ing it to con­tinue.

BJP’S cam­paign was de­vised two years ago by Raje, along with Arun Jait­ley, leader of Op­po­si­tion in the Ra­jya Sabha, and the then party pres­i­dent Nitin Gad­kari. She deputed Kirit So­maiya, MP and BJP na­tional sec­re­tary, to ex­pose cases of cor­rup­tion and favouritism linked to Gehlot.

Af­ter her Su­raj Sankalp Ya­tra was launched in April this year, Raje had two sur­veys con­ducted by pro­fes­sional agen- cies on the winnability of likely BJP can­di­dates. She con­veyed th­ese re­sults to RSS. “Give me ji­tau (winnable) can­di­dates first, tikau (loy­al­ists) ones later,” she told Gu­lab Chand Kataria, her RSS- backed sec­ond-in-com­mand.

The

war room of Ra­jasthan BJP is pop­u­lated by RSS and party lead­ers from Gu­jarat. Be­sides Kap­tan Singh Solanki, in-charge of the state party unit, six top RSS lead­ers have been as­signed a divi­sional head­quar­ter each to as­sist the state BJP. RSS, though, is work­ing be­hind the scenes to al­low Raje the space to har­vest the anti-Gehlot sen­ti­ment brew­ing among mi­nori­ties in the wake of the 2011 Gopal­garh ri­ots in which 10 Meos were killed, al­legedly in po­lice fir­ing and ar­son.

In a state where caste plays a de­ci­sive role, for­mer BJP leader and now In­de­pen­dent MLA Kirori Lal Meena can play spoiler. Hav­ing joined hands with P.A. Sangma’s Na­tional Peo­ple’s Party, the Sched­uled Tribes leader has got 17 per cent votes in the opin­ion poll, a mark-up on the 13.5 per cent

ST votes in the state. Man­ag­ing rebels ahead of Novem­ber 16, the last date of with­drawal of nom­i­na­tions, will thus be key to the for­tunes of both the in­cum­bent and the chal­lenger.

‘PM, CM’, is the new war cry at BJP ral­lies, an en­dorse­ment of the party’s choice for the na­tion and the state. Raje plays down opin­ion polls. “Miles to go,” she says. It’s easy to say that when you’re rid­ing a win­ning wave.

“Votes are earned through con­sis­tent work for the peo­ple, not bought by last

-minute cash dis­tri­bu­tion.’’

VA­SUND­HARA VA­SUND­HARA RAJE RAJE

CHIEF MIN­IS­TER ASHOK GEHLOTATARALLYIN JAIPUR

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