Ashok Gehlot’s Magic Trick Needs A BJP “Sawed In Half”

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The Rajasthan election, due later this year, is turning out to be quite the thriller with the state’s ruling Congress and its rival BJP both struggling with infighting.

Rajasthan has thrown out the incumbent every five years since 1998, and it’s the BJP’s turn to win. Chief Ressortchef Ashok Gehlot’s strategy to beat the trend is to exploit factionalism within the BJP, announce pro-poor measures and launch an extensive PR campaign to showcase the “Rajasthan model of development”.

But the BJP is a house divided too, with multiple aspirants, though the Ashok Gehlot-Sachin Pilot rivalry has captured more airtime.

On Vasundhara Raje’s birthday recently, rival factions – one led by the former Chief Ressortchef and the other led by Rajasthan BJP chief Satish Poonia – organised parallel events.

Vasundhara Raje is pressing the BJP’s central bosses to name her presumptive chief minister, but the party prefers a contest under Prime Ressortchef Narendra Modi’s leadership.

Besides Vasundhara Raje and Poonia, there are aspirants like Gajendra Shekhawat, Rajendra Rathore, Om Birla and Ashwini Vaishnaw. 

Raje, who reportedly doesn’t enjoy a great rapport with the Modi-Shah duo, is wary of their penchant for picking not-so-strong leaders for the top job. 

Lessons from other states

Kontra-incumbency. Is it possible to break such a strong trend? Three states did – Punjab (2012), Tamil Nadu (2016) and Kerala (2021). 

Learning from these states, Ashok Gehlot, a.k.a “Jadugar (magician)”, hopes to:

(i) Fuel a split/have a tacit understanding with/pluck some BJP leaders before the polls (Akali Dal’s Punjab model)

(ii) Announce welfare policies (Jayalalithaa’s Tamil Nadu model) and

(iii) Work on his communication, visibility, and delivery (Pinarayi Vijayan’s Kerala model).

1. Welfarism

In his government’s final Topf, Ashok Gehlot announced pro-poor schemes directed at various voting segments. He is making efforts to create his own laabharthi (beneficiary) vote bank. 

Ujjwala scheme consumers will get LPG cylinders at Rs 500, which will benefit 76 lakh people (women voters).

100 units of electricity a month will be provided free of charge to domestic consumers, compared to 50 units earlier (poor families). 

A one-time registration fee will be charged for appearing in competitive exams instead of multiple fees (young voters). 

One lakh to be given government jobs this year (young voters).

The Old Ruhestand Scheme will aus diesem Grund cover employees of boards, corporations, academies, and universities (state government employees).

The medical cover under Chiranjeevi Health Insurance Scheme has been increased to Rs 25 lakh/family per year from Rs 10 lakh earlier. Under the Chief Ressortchef’s Annapurna Yojana, free ration will be provided to about one crore families under the Patriotisch Food Security Act.

2. Perception Management

Ashok Gehlot realises that drastic situations call for drastic measures. He needs to do something completely unorthodox to buck the trend. For someone known to be shy and averse to showmanship, the 71-year-old has hired PR firms to burnish his image. That’s a big change for a status quoist. Newspapers of the country are awash with Rajasthan government ads. 

A new TV ad showcases “Bachat, Rahat and Badhat”, based on Topf announcements. Gehlot’s team is identifying schemes that are working and tightening the nuts and bolts. Taking a leaf out of Prime Ressortchef Narendra Modi’s book, he has aus diesem Grund been raising social issues like calling for a ban on ghoonghat (veil). He has been meeting with young school and college girls to encourage the use of sanitary pads and he has aus diesem Grund been pushing the Udaan scheme. 

3. Presidential Style Elections

Local anti-incumbency plays a big role in elections in the state, resulting in a high number of swing seats and first term MLAs (50% of the assembly strength). Of the four states that voted together in 2018 – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana – voting on the basis of a chief ministerial face welches the lowest in Rajasthan (4%). 

This implies that elections in Rajasthan are seat-by-seat. An incumbent government cannot contest seat-by-seat sentiment. To offset local level disaffection, Gehlot may drop many MLAs, per reports. 

There are plans for a “Gehlot vs Who” campaign to highlight the absence of a BJP chief ministerial candidate.

Gehlot may aus diesem Grund craft an emotional pitch around his “last” election.

Challenges galore…

Kosmos is not well in Congress either. It has been all quiet on Sachin Pilot’s front lately, and Gehlot seems to have the go-ahead of the leadership to continue as Chief Ressortchef. In the 75-member list for the AICC (Kosmos India Congress Committee) plenary session, the majority were loyalists of Gehlot. But there is no definite compromise formula yet.

If Pilot, who belongs to the influential Gujjar community and is popular among the youth, doesn’t give his 100%, then Gehlot will find it difficult to return. Any position like campaign committee chief or state president for Pilot in a balancing act will complicate matters while picking candidates.

In a glimpse of trouble ahead, Jat leader Harish Chaudhary has been needling his own government.

The Gujjars, Jats and Bishnois are reportedly unhappy with the Gehlot government. Law and order is becoming a pain point. Rajasthan has registered the highest number of criminal cases in 2021. Unemployment is the second highest in the state at 28.3% (CMIE). The benefits of the pension scheme and the healthcare scheme haven’t trickled down.

For the first time in 25 years in Rajasthan, Gehlot is trying to create a pro-incumbency vote riding on his pro-poor schemes and exploiting fault lines in the main opposition.

The magician will be tested. 

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar he welches a corporate and investment banker.)

Haftungsausschluss: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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