India Today - - ASSEMBLY POLLS RAJASTHAN - By Ro­hit Par­i­har

Since 2003, Ra­jasthan has wit­nessed a straight con­test be­tween the Congress and the BJP with Ashok Gehlot and Va­sund­hara Raje tak­ing turns to run the state. The story of the up­com­ing polls in De­cem­ber seems no dif­fer­ent, though there may be a twist. The state BJP is grap­pling with in­fight­ing and Raje’s own tus­sle with party pres­i­dent Amit Shah and Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi. On the Congress front, there is a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence this time with Sachin Pi­lot, as the Pradesh Congress Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent, throw­ing a chal­lenge at both Raje and Gehlot.

Pi­lot is be­ing seen as some­one who has re­ju­ve­nated the party and Con­gress­men alien­ated dur­ing Gehlot’s three decades at the helm of the party in the state, thus rais­ing hopes of it mak­ing a cru­cial come­back after a dis­as­trous per­for­mance in the last as­sem­bly polls when it got 21 seats in the 200-mem­ber as­sem­bly and the gen­eral elec­tions when it failed to win even one out of the 25 seats. Also, Pi­lot’s strat­egy of high­light­ing the Raje govern­ment’s fail­ures in key ar­eas seems to be more ef­fec­tive than Gehlot’s pre­ferred strat­egy of ‘per­sonal’ at­tacks on the CM.

All this has ap­par­ently made Gehlot and his loy­al­ists ner­vous. And sens­ing groupism within the party, Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi has asked Pi­lot to en­sure that he takes Gehlot along, at least pub­licly. As the Congress puts up a united front, the talk­ing point in the state is, who will be the next CM—Gehlot or Pi­lot—im­ply­ing that the party may win this elec­tion.

For the BJP, Raje and Shah have been cam­paign­ing sep­a­rately. Though state BJP pres­i­dent Madan Lal Saini de­scribes this as a strat­egy and also op­ti­mum use of re­sources, Pi­lot says it is in­fight­ing that has forced them to do so. The fric­tion with the top brass has been vis­i­ble through­out Raje’s ten­ure. There’s a per­cep­tion in the state unit that the high com­mand has forced her to be in a ‘switch-off mode’, though she has un­der­taken ex­ten­sive tours twice, criss­cross­ing the en­tire state. Raje has done it a third time now through her 40-day Suraj Gau­rav Ya­tra. Shah, on the other hand, is busy hold­ing meet­ings at the block level, re­ceiv­ing feed­back from party work­ers, and telling them that in­stead of sulk­ing, they must go all-out to en­sure the BJP wins.

The first signs of an anti-Raje lobby within the party, out to sab­o­tage her by talk­ing about her in­ef­fi­cient rule, was ev­i­dent when the BJP lost three of the four by­polls in Septem­ber 2014 in the seats that fell va­cant after four MLAs moved to par­lia­men­tary seats. “Peo­ple could not have turned against the rul­ing party within a few weeks for no rea­son,” says a se­nior BJP min­is­ter, adding that Raje has to now face Pi­lot, the non-con­tro­ver­sial new face, as well as her op­po­nents within the party.

“Raje has rarely been at her usual best in in­ter­act­ing with work­ers, but con­fined her­self mostly to meet­ings to im­ple­ment poli­cies and pro­grammes, work­ing 16 hours a day,” says a bu­reau­crat, who has been ob­serv­ing her since 2003. At ev­ery elec­tion rally, Raje lists her achieve­ments and presents a few ben­e­fi­cia­ries of her schemes on the stage. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the govern­ment has been hold­ing ral­lies, in­clud­ing one ad­dressed by PM Modi on July 7 in Jaipur that high­lighted the govern­ment’s achieve­ments like re­cruit­ing 40,000 teach­ers and giv­ing pro­mo­tions to 6,000 con­sta­bles.

The party and the govern­ment have planned more such ral­lies for farm­ers and Sched­uled Castes and Sched­uled Tribes, hav­ing waived their Rs 50,000 debt.

PM Modi will re­visit the state soon to mark the con­clu­sion of Raje’s Gau­rav Ya­tra that has pri­mar­ily fo­cused on the ru­ral con­stituen­cies and will also launch the party’s cam­paign in ur­ban ar­eas.

To make mat­ters worse for Raje, the state govern­ment is also deal­ing with is­sues such as con­flicts be­tween the up­per castes and Dal­its over the amend­ments to the SC/ST Atroc­i­ties Act and re­ces­sion for which traders have been blam­ing Modi’s eco­nomic poli­cies. The Congress has been high­light­ing all these is­sues in its elec­tion cam­paigns. And the BJP harp­ing on the Congress’s mis­rule of 50 years has few tak­ers in the state be­cause Pi­lot is a new face and be­cause the BJP has been in power for 18 of the past 28 years in Ra­jasthan.

The dis­il­lu­sion­ment of vot­ers with both the Congress and the BJP is ap­par­ent given the fact that in 2008 the In­de­pen­dents and oth­ers gar­nered 15 per cent votes, and in 2013, NOTA scored more than the win­ning mar­gins in 11 seats. This also means that the Congress can­not be sure of get­ting an­ti­in­cum­bency votes. Such a sit­u­a­tion has made both the par­ties look at key is­sues and the caste arith­metic. The Congress has ac­cused Raje of ig­nor­ing civic in­fra­struc­ture, farm­ers and youth un­em­ploy­ment. The party is also ap­proach­ing a sec­tion of Ra­jputs, in­clud­ing Man­ven­dra Singh, son of Jaswant Singh, who has re­cently quit the BJP.

On the other hand, the BJP high com­mand is work­ing hard to re­tain the Ra­jput votes. Raje has also ap­pointed a con­sid­er­able num­ber of Jat of­fi­cers in im­por­tant posts to win over the com­mu­nity. Clearly, the bat­tle of strate­gies is on in Ra­jasthan.


BATTLEDRESS Va­sund­hara Raje dur­ing her Suraj Gau­rav Ya­tra in Alwar dis­trict on Septem­ber 21

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