Contestants arrayed in the electoral battlefield of Rajasthan is almost clear. The Congress and the BJP are engaged in a bitter, closer, no holds barred contest than expected earlier. Hitherto sidelined BJP leader and former CM Vasundhara Raje has come back to the centrestage, while challenges go on multiplying for the Congress led by CM Ashok Gehlot, the latest being ED raids against Congress leaders and their associates.
Even though, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot has expressed confidence in Congress’ prospect of retaining power for the second consecutive term, breaking the track record of electorate in the state for not returning the incumbent party in power for the second consecutive term in the last three decades since 1993. Rajasthan elections are scheduled to be held on November 25.
Congress election campaigns have been disrupted due to continued ED raids against its leaders. CM Gehlot has criticized the PM Narendra Modi led government at the Centre of misusing the Central investigating agencies against the opposition leaders. He argued that the Centre must focus on economic offenders and fugitives like Nirav Modi or Vijay Mallya rather than relentless pursuit of opposition leaders.
The ruling Congress in the state has begun “Guarantee Yatra” from November 7 to tell the people about the 7 guarantees that the party has given to the people of Rajasthan if they return to power. Rath Yatras will be organized in every district of the state and would pass through seven divisions, 31 districts, and 140 Assembly constituencies covering 4,400 km over a period of 12 days.
The 7 guarantees given by the Congress are: Rs 10,000 per annum honorarium for the women heads of families; subsidized gas cylinders at Rs 500 for over one crore households; free laptops or tablets for first year students studying in government colleges; free English medium education; purchase of cow dung from cattle owners at Rs 2 per kg to promote bio-gas production; Rs 15 lakh calamity insurance for Chiranjeevi families; and a promise to back the old pension scheme for government employees with a law. During the Yatras, about 250 events will be held including public rallies and road shows. Citizens would be provided an opportunity to register for the benefits of these guarantees. The party intends to distribute about 2 crore guarantee cards.
Congress campaign has just brought a paradigm shift in campaigning to face the challenges put before them by the BJP leadership. PM Narendra Modi has been the mascot of BJP campaign, and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have also been addressing large number of public rallies. Both of them have been alleging that Congress government of corruption, appeasement of Muslim minority, anti-Sanatan Dharm, failing the state in development. However, Congress is showcasing its commendable human development which included the right to free treatment for its citizens. Congress believes its people-oriented schemes would act as glue for its support base, and would ultimately return it to power.
Congress has almost overcome its inner challenge of factionalism. The two factions –Gehlot and Sachin Pilot – are now seen participating in coordinated election campaigns, though there are still many angry after denial of party tickets. However, the party may face a major challenge from strengthened BJP after the Vasundhara’s comeback on the centrestage, after being sidelined for years.
It should be recalled that BJP’s Central leadership had to decide to contest election without a CM face in the state, chiefly because of severe infighting. The term “under collective leadership” was coined and people were asked to vote for PM Narendra Modi. However, Vasundhara Raje has made a strong comeback with wresting large number of tickets for her supporters, and herself contesting election. It signals that infighting in the BJP is contained to a great extent, and the Congress would have a to be ready for closer contests in almost all the seats in the state.
Congress’ election campaign is also likely to have more disruption through ED raids, because PM Narendra Modi himself have said that the opposition INDIA is a pack of corrupts and the government would act tough against corruption. ED had already conducted several raids against congress leaders including Rajasthan Congress president, ministers in the state government, close relatives of CM Ashok Gehlot, and their associates. BJP has alleged that Congress is politicizing the ED raids, while Congress has criticized it. However, irrespective of the merits or demerits in ED raids, these have severely impacted the Congress’ election campaigns.
Limiting the division of anti-BJP votes is another challenge for the Congress, since several INDIA alliance partners are in the electoral battlefield. Congress is contesting on 199 seats and it gave only one seat to RLD. CPI(M) is contesting on 17 seats, CPI on 12, and AAP on 86 seats. Among others, BSP is contesting on 43 seats, RLP+ASP(KR) on 73+57 seats, LJP (Ram Vilas) on 12, and AIMIM on 11 seats. BJP is contesting in all 200 seats, and division of anti-BJP votes is their advantage. It is posting additional challenge to Congress.
The focus of BJP’s campaign is on consolidation of votes on religious ground, and referring Muslim terrorism more often from around the world, and from the communal tensions in the state. Congress needs to effectively counter such propaganda with their own concerted public contact programmes.
BJP has been trying to discredit the CM Ashok Gehlot led Congress government in the state not only for their past governance, but also telling the people that the party’s guarantees have no value. Vasundhara Raje has said that people are not fools to fall prey to the false promises of the Congress. “It is surprising that the Congress, which does not have its own guarantee, has now started giving guarantees to people.”As against Modi’s Guarantees, Congress is relying more on CM Ashok Gehlot’s Guarantees, and his popularity among all sections of society, especially the common people. Congress is fighting an increasingly tough electoral battle in Rajasthan. (IPA Service)