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The arrogance of Vasundhara Raje

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Much like PM Modi, Raje rules by fear. But the concentration of power in her hands is among many factors behind the BJP’s defeat in the Rajasthan bypolls.

The results for the Rajasthan bypolls are out, and it is time for the BJP to introspect. The biggest setback is for the Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who came to power just five years ago with an unprecedented majority of 160-plus seats out of 200.

On Thursday, her party lost two Lok Sabha seats, Ajmer and Alwar, and one assembly seat, Mandalgarh, even though in one of the seats, a Congress rebel fought as an independent and secured over 20 per cent of the vote.

These elections were being watched closely, as they are indicators of which way the wind is blowing. And now it seems clear that the BJP is losing ground in Rajasthan. It is a big loss for the BJP, as the two Lok Sabha seats contain 16 Vidhan Sabha seats. Of these, the BJP held 14, the Congress one, and one more is held by the National People’s Party. Assembly polls are due in November/December, with the Lok Sabha elections next year.

Raje tried very hard during the campaign to assuage voter anger. But it is clear that the win is not for the Congress, but is a vote against the state and central governments. Despite getting a whopping majority in the last election, Raje’s government has failed miserably to connect with voters.

Raje had arrogantly scrapped or reduced the budget for many social welfare schemes launched by the previous Congress government. Ashok Gehlot’s populist ‘free medicines for all’ program was starved of funds. She said people from Haryana used to take advantage of this scheme. Instead, she launched a free medicine card for the poor.

The Congress even claimed 17,000 schools had been closed across the state. Raje justified her move by saying these schools did not have too many students.

Like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the chief minister also had come to power on the promise of ‘vikas’. But there is a visible lack of development, even though the minister in charge of the road sector is widely viewed to be efficient. She had promised solar power but many projects did not take off. At the much-hyped Rajasthan investors summit, many MoUs were signed. But not even five per cent materialised.

Raje faced considerable criticism from the people on her reliance on the public-private partnership model, especially in the running of schools and primary health centres.

State government employees were not happy with the Raje government as the 7th Pay Commission was implemented from January 2017 instead of January 2016, as they had been demanding for long. In fact, in Ajmer, some state government employees who were part of polling parties were also seen wearing black bands in protest.

Moreover, there was much resentment among party workers over Raje’s autocratic functioning style. They would often say that she behaved like a maharani (empress) and encouraged and thrived on sycophancy. Not only the general public or journalists, she is also considered inaccessible to the average party worker. Even the RSS kept away from the campaign in Ajmer, where it did not come out in full support of Ramswaroop Lamba.

Much like Modi at the Centre, Raje rules by fear. She has consolidated all the power, and her ministers have the autonomy to take only minor decisions. In the last four years, Raje has not held a single press conference. She threw a lunch for journalists, where she mingled with them, but did not take any questions.

Even the Modi magic seems to be on the wane in the state, especially after GST and demonetisation. Unemployment among the youth and anger among the farming community have been a huge cause of worry for the party.

Bitter infighting in the BJP also affected the ruling party in these polls. BJP has seven MLAs out of eight assembly seats under Alwar Lok Sabha seat, and all of these MLAs were facing the wrath of party workers. They were not happy with the sitting MLAs for not listening to their grievances or attending to their work.

In Ajmer, a fight between two MLAs affected the equation for the BJP. Both are ministers in the Raje government, but are locked in a turf war.

In the last 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Alwar, the voting percentage of Meo Muslims was lower in number, but this time, they were angry over the killing of Pehlu Khan and Umar by cow vigilantes last year. They came out in huge numbers to cast their votes. In some areas, the turnout even touched over 80 per cent.

Some of the sitting MLAs of the BJP even tried to polarise the by-election, especially in Alwar. But even this failed because the cow vigilantes who were captured by the police are staunch BJP supporters and the local workers resented the way in which Raje handled the cases.

Over and above all this, the BJP also faced anger of the Rajput community, who are traditionally its voters. The two reasons were the encounter of gangster Anandpal and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmaavat.

The Rajput gangster, a popular Robin Hood-like figure, was killed in what many say was a fake encounter last year. He was a fugitive from jail. It is rumoured that he knew many of the secrets about the corrupt dealings of ministers in the government. After he was gunned down, there were several Rajput protests in Nagaur, close to Ajmer.

During the campaign, one voter summed up the mood of the electorate most succinctly: “Kamal ko pakedne ki liye to panja chahiye” (To hold a lotus, you need a hand).

Anil Sharma is a senior journalist in Jaipur. His Twitter handle is @anilsharma45

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Anilji very nice write up , It is exact giving a Rajasthan Public feelings.
    I appreciate that you come out with true story. BRAVO?

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