X-fac­tor That Gehlot Holds

Rahul is not Naren­dra Modi, who can won states for party with­out strong re­gional face. Sachin Pi­lot has lim­ited in­flu­ence, es­pe­cially among Gu­j­jars but Ashok Gehlot is a mass leader

The Day After - - CONTENT - By dAnFES

Three months ago, most die-hard BJP sup­porter would not put money on the party’s re­turn in Ra­jasthan. Not with Va­sund­hara Raje as the chief min­is­te­rial can­di­date for sure. But, if one asks now, many would say it is a 50:50 game that could go ei­ther way in the com­ing months. So, has any­thing changed?

Our team drove to Al­war from Delhi. The first stop was Bhi­wadi, an in­dus­trial town across the Haryana bor­der. Lo­cals credit Bha­iron Singh Shekhawat’s vi­sion for this man­u­fac­tur­ing hub. In com­ing years, it may well be­come an ex­ten­sion of Gurgaon-NCR.

Lit­tle did we ex­pect to get caught in a traf­fic jam in Bhi­wadi. But, there we were sit­ting in the midst of “Ja­gran” pro­ces­sion. This was out­side one of the many tem­ples in the city run by the Gu­j­jar Sa­maj. The Gu­j­jars came to Bhi­wadi af­ter reap­ing a for­tune, when land prices soared in Haryana. Now they are the dom­i­nant set in the area. And, Sachin Pi­lot is a Gu­j­jar, in­formed our driver.

Thus at Al­war, we ex­pected to find a re­sound­ing en­dorse­ment for Pi­lot. In­stead, the traders we met were rather cir­cum­spect. Pi­lot may draw the Gu­j­jar votes, but he may not be able to reign in its rowdy el­e­ments. That might make the oth­ers wary. Here, lies the im­por­tance of Ashok Gehlot.

Pi­lot is the dar­ling of the na­tional me­dia. But, Gehlot re­mains the favourite face of Congress in Ra­jasthan. In re­cent times, no other Congress leader in the state has com­manded as much re­spect as Gehlot. In a world where cor­rup­tion is a rel­a­tive term, Gehlot en­joys a clean image. Peo­ple rate his last term well. They ad­mire his ad­min­is­tra­tive acu­men and peo­ple con­nect. Gehlot fans think, had it not been for the “Modi Wave” of 2014, he would have def­i­nitely come back for a sec­ond in­ning.

In re­cent months, Gehlot’s stock has risen fur­ther in Ra­jasthan. He gets the credit for Rahul Gandhi’s sec­ond com­ing as it were, start­ing with the Gu­jarat elec­tions. Peo­ple be­lieve, he is the brain be­hind Rahul’s tem­ple run and “ShivBhakt” makeover. They feel as a mem­ber of Rahul’s in­ner co­terie, he will play a much big­ger role in the days to come.

Pi­lot has been work­ing hard at a mi­crolevel ever since he took charge of the

state unit. Congress’ good show­ing in some of the lo­cal elec­tions and by-polls are the re­sult of his ef­forts. But, he has still not ac­quired the stature to stake a claim the top job on his own steam.

Apart from Gehlot, CP Joshi is far from hang­ing his boots. Joshi shows no in­ten­tion of fad­ing into the sun­set yet. He still wields enough clout to in­flu­ence the ticket dis­tri­bu­tion.

Pi­lot will have to con­tend with all these forces. Only Rahul’s en­dorse­ment can­not see him through. He will need Gehlot’s bless­ings to ad­vance fur­ther. It is doubt­ful if Gehlot will re­lin­quish his turf so early. Know­ing the Congress, it is un­likely to spell out its chief min­is­te­rial choice be­fore the elec­tions.

Rahul is no Naren­dra Modi that he can sweep state elec­tion on his own eq­uity with­out a strong lo­cal face. To take on Va­sund­hara, nam­ing Gehlot as the chief min­is­te­rial can­di­date would be the best op­tion for Rahul. But, will he be able to spare him be­fore the Lok Sabha polls? That is the dilemma, which should be trou­bling Rahul.

The road to Jaipur via the Sariska Tiger Re­serve is an or­tho­pe­dics de­light, be­cause it is sure to cause a few spine dis­lo­ca­tions on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. A stark con­trast to the satin smooth Delhi-Jaipur High­way it merges into. Who can tell if these are sym­bolic of what lies ahead on the elec­tion trail?

In Jaipur, the mood, as they say, is mixed. De­trac­tors of Va­sund­hara were pre­dict­ing a change of guard in the state for long. Much of it was wish­ful think­ing. Peo­ple within the party did not like her im­pe­ri­ous style and lack of ac­cess. The busi­ness com­mu­nity at large seemed to pre­fer the pre­vi­ous regime.

But, their hopes crashed at ev­ery turn. The last bet was Modi-Shah will project a sec­ond face as a chief min­is­ter prob­a­ble in the run-up to the elec­tions. But, Va­sund­hara put an end to all spec­u­la­tions. She check­mated Amit Shah’s nom­i­nee and in­stalled her own can­di­date as the new state pres­i­dent of the BJP. The mes­sage was sharp and clear that she re­mains in con­trol. Shah had lit­tle op­tion but to de­clare that BJP will go to the polls with Va­sund­hara on the driver’s seat.

It would be naive to be­lieve that ShahModi had to field Raje un­der duress. There is a lot go­ing in her favour. First, the BJP has no other mass leader in Ra­jasthan. No other BJP leader, not even Om Mathur, has such uni­ver­sal ac­cept­abil­ity across the state. Even a sharp-shooter like Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore would be an in­stant ca­su­alty of the in­ter­nal cross-fires of the party.

It is well known that Raje com­mands the loy­alty of over 120 odd MLAs. Through them, she has her own net­work across the state. Only she has the as­sured back­ing of the RSS ground force with her di­rect line to Nag­pur.

Like Gehlot, she has chan­nels open with ev­ery caste con­stituency and re­gional satraps. Over the years, she has mas­tered the art of cut­ting deals and neu­tral­iz­ing op­po­nents. This was ev­i­dent in the way she dif­fused sev­eral po­lit­i­cal crises dur­ing her two tenures.

But, she is not one to rely only upon po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­vers to se­cure her po­si­tion. She has fol­lowed struc­tured and well­tar­geted wel­fare pro­grams. Schemes like BHAMASHA have won her huge sup­port among women vot­ers and mass con­nect.

Va­sund­hara runs a tight party ma­chin­ery. It would be even more for­mi­da­ble with RSS foot-soldiers. With var­i­ous fac­tions in the state Congress, Pi­lot may not en­joy the same unity of com­mand.

Like ev­ery other state even Va­sund­hara will have to de­pend on the Modi Magic to de­liver the fi­nal goods. The bal­ance will tilt de­ci­sively in BJP’s favour if the state and Lok Sabha polls are made to co­in­cide, an op­tion that can­not be ruled out as yet. But, as on date, no one can write Va­sund­hara off as some were prone to do a few months ago. The con­test is still wide open.

A lo­cal wit at the Jaipur Club Bar summed it up with a smart quip. Those who de­cide to vote for Congress will do so in the hope that, af­ter the Lok Sabha elec­tions Gehlot will come back as the chief min­is­ter. Peo­ple vot­ing for BJP will do so con­fi­dent of Modi re­turn­ing as prime min­is­ter. They will hope that Va­sund­hara hav­ing proved a point might then hand over the ba­ton to a new face and move to a role at the Cen­tre.

No doubt the out­come in Ra­jasthan will also im­pact the Lok Sabha elec­tions. But, the bat­tle for the chief min­is­ter’s chair in Jaipur will not be sealed till the new oc­cu­pant of the throne in Delhi is de­cided.

Those who de­cide to vote for Congress will do so in the hope that, af­ter the Lok Sabha elec­tions Gehlot will come back as the Chief Min­is­ter. Peo­ple vot­ing for BJP will do so con­fi­dent of Modi re­turn­ing as Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia

Ra­jasthan CM Va­sund­hara Raje dur­ing Ra­jasthan Gau­rav Ya­tra

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