In do or die poll, Raje needs Modi lifeline

Rajasthan

In the run-up to Rajasthan’s assembly elections, due in December this year, both Congress and the ruling BJP are on their toes. While Congress is keen to avenge its humiliating defeat in 2013, the BJP, which has blotted its copybook, is faced with the challenge of retaining power, let alone repeat that stellar performance.  

The road isn’t smooth for either party. The BJP is battling not just anti-incumbency but also disgruntled party workers and communities. None of Raje’s predecessors have been able to beat anti-incumbency in the last five elections. At Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Jhunjhunu in March, the popular slogan was: “Modi tujhse bair nahin, Vasundhara teri khair nahin” (We don’t hold anything against you, Modi, but Vasundhara, beware of us). Raje seems to have learnt from that early wake up call. She’s now on a 40-day-long ‘Gaurav Yatra’ across the state to connect with voters herself.

The widespread resentment of people became evident in the recent by-polls when the BJP lost two Lok Sabha and one assembly seat to Congress.

The list of groups and communities upset with the BJP include farmers (demanding full loan waiver, not heeded by BJP), Rajputs (Padmaavat movie issue and skewed number of Rajput leaders in Raje’s cabinet), Gujjars (agitating since party’s previous term seeking a 5% quota in government jobs), youth (lack of jobs) and others. Not surprisingly, last week, Raje’s yatra witnessed protests in Chittorgarh by the Rajput community. And when the yatra pulls into Bharatpur division on August 20, the Gujjar community has threatened to boycott or even block it.

But Raje isn’t giving up yet. The 2018 assembly polls, apart from being the semi-finals before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, will also decide Raje’s future in the BJP and Rajasthan. The yatra is an attempt to woo back voters with last-minute sops. After ensuring that the party retained her as its CM candidate, a win could establish her firmly in the party; a loss could mean the end of the road for the 66-year-old scion of the Scindia family.

All’s not well in Congress, either. Struggling to keep its house in order, the party faces twin challenges – infighting, and a resultant confusion over who would be CM if it won, and weak booth-level organisation and management. Thoroughly aware that Congress president Rahul Gandhi wants him to play a key role at the Centre, former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has nonetheless thrown his hat in the ring for another term, with his aides not letting go of any opportunity to put the word out. That has put Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot in an uneasy position. To put a stop to stories of the cold war between the two, Rahul Gandhi made them hug each other publicly at a recent rally in Jaipur. But if the infighting doesn’t stop, it may well be Raje who will be winking delightfully this time.

To counter Raje’s yatra, Congress has decided to organise ‘Sankalp’ rallies across the state in which its bigwigs will present a show of solidarity and vow to make the state “free from anarchy, corruption, inflation, crime and atrocities on women under the BJP government.”  Like Raje, Congress, too, will begin its pre-poll rallies from the Udaipur division, considered to hold the key to winning in the state.

 The rallies aim to overcome the party’s poor booth management capability, reflected in over a dozen scuffles at its ‘Mera Booth Mera Gaurav’ campaign across the state. However, overconfident party leaders say that these “scuffles” hint at ‘internal democracy’.

With three months to go, the mood in BJP is upbeat as Congress is yet to come out of its shell. Local leaders are trying their best and both parties are yet to bring in their star campaigners. While Raje has already completed one phase of her yatra in the crucial Udaipur division, Congress kicks off its first rally on August 24. 

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In do or die poll, Raje needs Modi lifeline

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