RETURN OF THE RANI
Despite Rs 5,000 crore in sops by the Gehlot government, Vasundhara Raje is on the comeback trail
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.
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