Vasundhara Raje’s ‘inaccessible CM’ perception BJP’s biggest challenge in Rajasthan

The campaign for the 200-member Rajasthan assembly saw a confident Congress take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which appears to be battling a negative perception against chief minister Vasundhara Raje. The 2018 Rajasthan election is all about Raje, who has faced criticism for being inaccessible. On ground, the campaign of both the Congress and BJP has centred around her.

“The anger is against Raje and not the legislators. No matter what the party did with the tickets, the anger is bound to have a repercussion in the election,” said a Rashtriya Swamayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak on condition of anonymity.

Whether Raje’s campaign blitz — she addressed 75 meetings in 15 days of campaigning, the maximum by any BJP leader — will be enough to assuage that anger will be answered on counting day on December 11.

The tempo for the campaign was set soon after the BJP lost Lok Sabha bypolls in Alwar and Ajmer and the assembly seat of Mandalgarh in February.

“The loss was a blessing in disguise,” said BJP national vice president Om Prakash Mathur, claiming that it forced the party to work on a course correction.

Part of that work included Raje’s last budget, in which the state offered close to 100 sops including a farm loan waiver of up to ~50,000 from cooperative banks. She started her Jan Samwad in all the seven divisions of the state, and ministers were instructed to reach out to the people. In August, Raje also set off on a 32-day long Gaurav Yatra that traversed 123 assembly constituencies, covering 4,497-km.

The BJP leadership also reached out to party workers, who openly blamed the bypoll loss on the inaccessibility of legislators and the cabinet. On the instructions of party president Amit Shah, booth-level committees were reconstituted keeping in view caste alignments. “We ensured that all castes including backward castes got representation in the booth-level committees,” said Mathur.

The BJP also identified beneficiaries of government schemes, and held a mega event for them on July 7 in Jaipur, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief guest.

Shah, who monitored the party’s campaign in Rajasthan, said party workers got in touch with 20 million welfare scheme beneficiaries since November 20.

For its part, the Congress strengthened its booth committees through the ‘mera booth mera gaurav’ campaign that it launched in April. Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot also undertook a 100-km march in Raje’s home turf of Jhalawar and led several protests across the state against the BJP government. The Congress issued a district-wise report card to build on the perceived anti-incumbency against the Raje government.

After November 22, which was the last day of withdrawing nominations, an undercurrent appeared against the ruling dispensation in several parts of the state. The BJP had denied tickets to 51 of its sitting legislators including three ministers.

Rajiv Gupta, a professor of sociology at the University of Rajasthan, said, “If the Congress wins this election, it will not be because of its policies or popularity but because it is the only alternative available before the people to replace the BJP.”

In Jaipur’s Babu Bazar, trader Amit Megnani said his entire family has been with Jan Sangh, and now BJP, since they moved to India after partition in 1947. “We cannot give vote to any party other than the BJP even though they killed our business and its leaders were not accessible at all,” he said.

A farmer in Sheo assembly constituency in Barmer, Hemraj Punia, said for four years it appeared that bureaucrats were running the government. “The CM (Raje) and ministers were not at all visible. They came out of their shells only after the bypoll loss,” he said. For him, the Congress’ promise of waiving up to Rs 2 lakh loan has found resonance.

Bharti Devi in Jodhpur city, who claimed to be a BJP worker, underlined that there was resentment against the incumbent BJP legislators on several counts and effort of her party to re-connect with people may not be enough to return to power. “We cannot face people anymore,” she said.

First Published: Dec 06, 2018 23:53 IST

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