Between the BJP and Rajasthan’s tradition of voting out the incumbent governments is standing a lone barrier in the form of defending Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. He has shifted his competitors, especially the young Sachin Pilot, cocked a snook at the Congress high command and conjured up the election campaign entirely in his own image and imagination.

His weapons in this solo fight are ₹500 per LPG cylinders, free health insurance coverage up to ₹25 lakh, disbursal of smartphones to women, free rations that include even tea and sugar besides the usual cereals and pulses besides the “Seven Guarantees” that include ₹10,000 to each woman head of the family, buying cow dung for ₹2 per kg, free laptops to students in government schools, English-medium free education, old pension scheme, free life insurance up to ₹5 lakh besides the ₹500 LPG cylinder.

“My agenda since the very beginning has been pro-poor and welfare oriented. It is associated personally to me because I firmly believe in the policies my government is implementing for the citizens of the State,” Gehlot told businessline.

Innovative welfare schemes

Within the Congress, there is extreme wariness about Gehlot’s personality-centric strategy that has alienated influential caste groups, mainly the Gujjars who are upset at the treatment meted out to their leader Sachin Pilot and have the potential to impact as many as 50 Assembly seats. At the same time, even the BJP strategists admit that Gehlot has been able to put up a massive contest in the State on the strength of his highly innovative welfare schemes that created a unique vote bank of ‘labharthis (beneficiaries)’ in each of the 200 constituencies in the poll-bound State.

“Till about nine months back, we were more or less certain that we are winning easily in Rajasthan. But we have a contest at our hands now. One has to admit that Gehlot has managed to put up a fight,” a BJP leader told businessline.

Congress’ strategists feel that Gehlot has ignored the party structure, command and run his campaign along with his consultant firm Design Boxed. In a State that follows the ‘roti-palatnewali (a phrase for changing the incumbent governments)’ culture, Gehlot insisted on retaining almost 86 per cent of the sitting MLAs because they were loyal to him during his run-in with the rival Sachin Pilot. The impact is showing on the ground.

At Surajpura village that falls in Sikrai Assembly constituency in Dausa district, people were openly hostile to sitting Congress MLA Mamta Bhupesh. “Ashok Gehlot is Number One CM. But Mamta Bhupesh is good for nothing. Uska supda saaf hai is baar(she is finished this time,” said Ramji Lal Mehwar.

Traditional seat

Dausa is considered a Congress stronghold. It was the traditional seat of the party stalwart Rajesh Pilot who has voted for the Congress for decades. But the Gujjars, who influence seats in this district, seemed openly hostile to the Congress this time. “What did they do to Sachin Pilot? Ashok Gehlot cannot even speak properly. He should retire and sit at home. We are all voting for the BJP,” said Dharam Pal.