Weeks ahead of the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot of the Congress is busy shielding himself from three fronts—the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, his archrival within the party Sachin Pilot and the grand old party’s high command, if party insiders are to be believed.
While the BJP is his natural opposition, it’s the other two who are making Gehlot insecure. He is worried that the Congress’ top leadership will decide against him after the results are declared, and will replace him with Pilot, say insiders. As if anticipating this, Gehlot has removed photos of Pilot and the party’s central leaders from several hoardings and posters across state capital Jaipur, giving rise to the impression that he wants to project himself as the main pull for the voters. It’s being said that he thinks by wooing the voters on his own, he will leverage his claim for the state’s top position if the Congress returns to power, apart from emerging bigger than the party. The downside is that if the Congress loses, then the sole responsibility for the defeat will be on Gehlot’s shoulders.
When asked about the missing photos, a top leader in the state said, “The other leaders are not there because the party wants to display the photos of the office bearers. It has nothing to do with anything else. Sachin Pilot is a star campaigner and a very prominent leader. His importance will not get diminished just by not having him on the party’s posters. He will remain a prominent leader.”
The bottom line is Gehlot is involved in some serious image-building for himself as confirmed by the recent ventures of Design-Box (a political agency), which works directly under Gehlot, and has been displaying increasingly bigger and dominating photographs of the incumbent CM, while marginalising Pilot and the other central leaders.
Despite the three political threats, Gehlot is banking on his voters, rather the below poverty line (BPL) electorate which says that the distribution of mobile phones and other welfare schemes has helped them and they want to vote for the Congress again. If Gehlot actually manages to tap into this vote base, which consists of around 15% of Rajasthan’s population, and adds it to the Congress’ core voter base, there is a chance for Congress to close in on a majority. However, one thing is clear that it will be Gehlot’s last-ditch effort to keep himself relevant in intra and extra-organisational politics.
A political analyst based in Rajasthan said, “The way to win is that if Congress has more in its artillery to consolidate those sentiments of it being a welfare government, it can convince a considerable chunk of swing voters to vote back Congress. Also, there is a hope being ignited by the party that the work they have initiated in the current tenure will reach completion in the next term which will not give another party (BJP) the chance to scrap the projects initiated by Congress—an exercise (scrapping of projects) practised for decades by both parties.”
Gehlot is facing the additional challenge of anti-incumbency against several of his legislators. The Sunday Guardian asked former Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram if the legislators failed to retain their seats because of their lack of inclusivity towards their electorate. He said, “Every legislator needs to be inclusive. There should be no exclusion made on the basis of religion, caste or creed. We on behalf of the Congress party will ensure that all legislators are inclusive and work for everyone in their respective constituencies if we are voted back to power.”
Coming back to the affairs of Gehlot’s natural opposition, an independent survey organisation which has two persons operating in every constituency told The Sunday Guardian, “After collecting our own data, we are of the opinion that BJP would retain almost all the incumbent seats. There is a possibility that the saffron party may fail to retain only around half a dozen seats. But that would be all. We don’t think they will lose more than six incumbent seats. On other seats, they will bank on anti-incumbency against the Congress.”
Finally, as Gehlot’s attention is divided over myriad disputes, a win would not only break the jinx of Rajasthan’s status of being a state that changes its government every five years, but also keep him relevant in politics.