Oct 29, 2018, 10.58 AM
The battle for Rajasthan is not only an electoral contest between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is also a fight for supremacy among the heavyweight state leaders belonging to the two parties. Their charisma and credibility will be an important factor in determining the outcome of the forthcoming Assembly election. The fact that the two national parties are the main contestants makes the role of the local leaders critical.
The prestige of three prominent state leaders is at stake. Chief minister Vasundhara Raje from the BJP, and Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot from the Congress. All of them have seen several political ups and downs. They have a pan-Rajasthan image. They are well-versed with the intricacies of caste combinations. They are leaders in their own right, not requiring to necessarily depend overly on the patronage of their respective national leadership to remain relevant. And, either of the three will nearly certainly head the next government in the state.
That said, the greatest pressure is on Vasundhara Raje because as the incumbent chief minister she has to retain the state for her party. Going purely by various poll surveys, she is on a sticky wicket. Her government’s performance has fetched ordinary ratings; her personal rating is below that of her Congress rivals; and in terms of both seats and vote-share, the BJP trails behind the Congress. There is still time for the tide to turn, for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to spin his charm on Rajasthan’s electorate. But it will be difficult, if not impossible to counter the negatives that have stuck on Vasundhara Raje’s image.
But why has she become so unpopular? After all, only five years before, she had stormed to power, dislodging the formidable Congress veteran Ashok Gehlot. One can only reply to perceptions to get an answer. The first concerns her inaccessibility, both to the masses and to the party’s local leaders. She is said to be aloof — even imperious — and brusque in her mannerism. The second has to do with her failure to address critical issues of unemployment and price rise. Besides, it does not help that the RSS, which contributes a large chunk of the workforce in election campaigning in the BJP’s favour, is less than enthused by her leadership. The recent by-poll losses in Alwar and Ajmer have been attributed to her failed leadership.
As if these were not enough, the chief minister has faced open rebellion from within; a prominent leader, Ghanshyam Tiwari, has floated his own outfit to take on her “corrupt regime”. Plus, there is disenchantment among nearly every influential caste group. Will these factors form a heady cocktail that will down the Raje regime, is to be seen.
But for now, it’s good news for the Congress’s Pilot and Gehlot. The former has for long been part of Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s inner circle, and now heads the party’s Rajasthan unit. Besides being young and dynamic, he has the right caste qualification (Gujjar). He is a strong favourite to take over the chief ministership in case the Congress snatches power from the BJP.
He must be itching to avenge his massive loss to a BJP candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha election (he lost by over 1,70,000 votes). Like Vasundhara Raje, he comes from a political family — his father Rajesh Pilot was a minister in the Congress government at the Centre. However, going by current perceptions, he faces a challenge to his chief ministerial ambitions not from the incumbent chief minister but from his colleague Gehlot.
Ashok Gehlot, like Pilot, is waiting to wipe the slate of his defeat in the 2013 Assembly polls, clean. His camp wants to see him back as chief minister. In recent months, he has come to be regarded as being close to Rahul Gandhi. He had been entrusted with the task of government formation in Karnataka. More recently, he was prominently present during the Rahul-led Congress’s protest meeting outside the Central Bureau of Investigation’s office. And, in many poll surveys, he figures higher than Pilot in ratings for the state’s next chief minister.
The Congress believes that the combined might of the two leaders will help the party breach the finishing line first. The BJP thinks the leadership tussle between the camps of the two tall Congress leaders will work in its favour. We will know soon.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL