Fresh on the heels of the Gujarat election results, the Indian National Congress has rightly decided to conduct a positive campaign for the Rajasthan Assembly elections, the party’s Member of Parliament Sachin Pilot has informed the press. It was unfortunate that Rahul Gandhi and his team of advisors could not understand what a negative campaign implied while they were in the act in Gujarat. Gandhi pointed out several flaws in the governance model the Bharatiya Janata Party had adopted in its 22 years of continuous rule. Without getting into the merits of those allegations, it can be said that they made little sense to the electorate because the about-to-be president of the INC had no alternative model in mind to share with the people. When they were warned about the ennui that sets in among the masses after being subjected to prolonged whining, they reminded the well wishers that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s act of questioning whether the INC was trying to sabotage the Gujarat elections with the help of Pakistan was what constituted a negative campaign! In other words, Gandhi could not differentiate between a negative campaign (comprising criticisms of the rival alone) and a legitimate query necessitated by a secret meeting with representatives of a perceptibly hostile country without intimation to the Home Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs. In contrast, Pilot is promising a “blueprint of a model of alternative governance which will be holistic and inclusive, will care for the young and old, create jobs and have a vision to take the state forward”. How much the young Gurjar leader or his party can be trusted is a different issue; the campaign strategy is sound for sure.
Rajasthan’s road to progress has been chequered and the government of Ashok Gehlot was not a regime the State is dying to get back. At the same time, Vasundhara Raje’s rule has been underwhelming, and she has the problem of carrying an awful image, lampooned as she is with a limerick “Eight PM/ no CM”. This member of the royal family of Scindias neither follows the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ideology nor does she get along well with the BJP veterans from the State or the central leadership of the BJP-led government of the National Democratic Alliance. This will work to her disadvantage even if the five years of Gehlot have been just as bad as those under Raje. Besides allegations of rampant nepotism, the current chief minister faces farmer distress, doctors’ unrest, poor health indices, lack of industry and a public redress system tweaked in such a manner that no complainant gets a semblance of justice from the State. She might just be able to break the cycle of government change every fifth year if she turns to Hindutva, which her new ‘secular’ avatar is reluctant to do. On the one hand, the Rajasthan government seeks to deport Hindu refugees from Pakistan — after which their conversion to Islam in that country would be inevitable for survival — on the other, even the wife of the man accused to burning a Bengali Muslim labourer alive in Rajsamand on accusation of love jihad is being persecuted with no concern for the couple’s innocent children. Add to an upset Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the State a peeved BJP at the Centre, even as the commoners are put off by corruption while the pro-INC gentry is anxious for a return to power. The end of Raje rule looks impending unless she gets her act together to address her officers’ malfeasance on a war-footing or renews her pledge for Hindus, which she was known for during her previous term. As for the economy, only a magic wand could revive it within a year after which it faces the next election.
Given that Gehlot wasn’t inspiring either, this should be a perfect battleground for a third player. The Aam Aadmi Party, however, has long lost the momentum of its early years while other opposition parties are still smarting from their recent defeats in different States. It is Rajasthan’s misfortune that its people do not have a real choice at the moment. Accepting the risk of predicting the outcome of an election so early, one may note that the INC appears romping home at this stage — whether or not Gandhi pays heed to Pilot.