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HomerajasthanRajasthan: A ‘Jaadugar’ and a ‘Rani’ fight for their might

Rajasthan: A ‘Jaadugar’ and a ‘Rani’ fight for their might

Ashok Gehlot is often called ‘jaadugar’(wizard) in Rajasthan and, with the state going to polls on November 25, he is pulling out all the tricks up his sleeves to buck its trend of voting the incumbent out of power. The 72-year-old chief minister knows that he is fighting not only the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party but also the high command of the ruling Congress.

The astute leader’s skill of parachuting into an opportunity was on display in December 2018, when the Congress barely won a majority in the state assembly. He managed to outsmart his rival Sachin Pilot and reached the helm of the new government. He is not leaving anything to chance this time though and anointed himself as the face of the party in the state.

Compared to other poll-bound states, like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh or even Telangana, the Congress leadership has not appeared confident about Rajasthan.

Rahul Gandhi has not yet visited the desert state although the election was declared a month back. In contrast, he was in Telangana for at least a dozen rallies in the past three weeks. The Congress’ other star campaigner, Priyanka Gandhi, addressed just three rallies in the state, while the party chief Mallikarjun Kharge had two so far.

Is it just a subtle admission of an impending defeat or is it that Gehlot is paying the price for a rebellion a year ago when he outmanoeuvred the high command to stay on as the chief minister with his supporters sabotaging a legislature party meeting that could have paved the way for Pilot?

Gehlot’s rebellion looms large over the Congress’ campaign. But what Rajasthan is witnessing in this election is unprecedented – sitting Congress MLAs are facing anti-incumbency but Gehlot and his government are not.

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Credit: DH Graphic

The chief minister is unwilling to concede before the last vote is counted. He is pinning his hope on a variety of welfare schemes his government rolled out in the last five years – from distribution of free laptops to health insurance to mobile phones for women to LPG cylinders at lower prices.

Gehlot and the Congress have also emulated the Karnataka formula of announcing guarantees, including Rs 10,000 to women head of the family annually, procuring cow dung at Rs 2 per kg, school education in English medium and others.

The Congress also feels it could get a little help from the infighting within the BJP, with former chief minister Vasundhara Raje also having a strained relationship with her party’s top brass.

Gehlot is also playing the victim card – using the actions of the Enforcement Directorate during election season against his son Vaibhav and other party leaders in old cases.

His government however faces serious questions on issues like exam paper leaks, corruption charges against the MLAs and crime against women.

For all its bitterness, Gehlot is also trying to make good of peace enforced in the Congress’ state unit by the party’s central leadership.

He managed to retain a majority of the MLAs as candidates despite adverse survey reports and even supported his bete noir Pilot’s aides, who were on the verge of unseating him in 2020. He also managed at the last minute a ticket for Shanti Dhariwal, one of the main characters who had sabotaged the September 2022 meeting of the party legislators.

In the run-up to the elections, Pilot also did not create trouble. No one would know whether Pilot has rightly read where the wind is blowing or whether he is biding his time for the right opportunity. Interestingly, he took time out to campaign in Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur, apparently signalling his intentions to explore playing a greater role in national politics.

The Congress’ performance, either way, is going to script a new chapter in Rajasthan politics this time – has the autumn arrived for the patriarch or is it a new spring for the younger rebel?

(Published 10 November 2023, 23:38 IST)

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