Ashok Gehlot A Clear Winner?
Rajasthan is going to the polls along with Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram in November-December this year. There is speculation about the great recovery made by the Congress government spearheaded by Ashok Gehlot. Just four months earlier, the Congress, which was tottering with just 30 percent chances of retaining power has suddenly catapulted its position and now pollsters are predicting the Congress coming back to power with a 70 percent win.
It is no secret that several welfare schemes launched by the Gehlot government in the final year of their five year tenure has affected the masses magically and the state government has earned the accolades of the people. These populist measures, worth several hundred crores, include free medicine, free diagnostic tests, pension for old aged persons, disability allowances etc. and other freebies like free veterinary services to the livestock and free sarees and quilts to the poor has impressed the masses. This was reflected in the large turn out for the Congress Sandesh Yatra started by the Chief Minister. The crowds during the meetings of the Yatra is swelling, reflecting the popularity of the government.
The enhancement of the pension scheme from Rs 500 to Rs 750 per month is a real hit. Everybody below the poverty line, the aged, widows, divorced women and disabled people between the ages of 53 and 58 are in the process of getting pensions.
The anti-incumbency bug is routine in northern Indian states,but Madhya Pradesh ,Chhattisgarh and Delhi have proved that with an attractive development agenda the ruling party can stave off the anti-incumbency factor. All this seems to suggest that the past history may be reversed. In Rajasthan, the opposition has always been voted in. This trend might change in the forthcoming Assembly elections.
Rajasthan was a prominent member of the Bimaru syndrome (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh). These states were called the sick states with poor economic situation, and rampant poverty.
In a survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of regional development at Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Rajasthan has emerged with flying colours in the field of poverty alleviation and its performance has been consistent in the past eight years.
Although Rajasthan had less percentage of people in the poverty level in 2004-05 compared to the national average, it was the reverse in urban areas. India’s poverty rate was 37.2 per cent in 2004-05, of which 25.5 per cent was in urban areas and 42 per cent in rural parts. In 2011-12, it was 13.7 per cent in urban areas and 25.7 per cent in villages, nationally. Against this, 10.7 per cent of people in towns and 16.1 per cent in villages of Rajasthan were poor that year.
In this desert state, electricity plays an important part. Gehlot, in 1998, as the Congress leader, successfully campaigned against the then Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s government and ousted it from power making the power crisis the election plank. It goes to the credit of Gehlot that he insisted on more production of power within the state and after coming back to power in 2008 the government has planned 6500 MW of power production.
Gehlot has ensured that with an uninterrupted flow of power, he would be able to please the farmers. Thus Rajasthan bought 225 MUs from power exchanges in March. As a comparative figure, the state had bought just 179 MUs from exchanges in the same month last year. Rajasthan’s power purchase through the bilateral trade route also jumped from 61 MUs in March last year to 428 MUs in March this year. The massive and costly purchase comes as the Congress government in the state is engaged in beating a strong anti-incumbency sentiment. This comes in the backdrop of two recent rate increases, 22 per cent in 2011 and 18 per cent in 2012, which have given its distribution companies (discoms) room for more purchases.
Similarly, costly power purchases made during the Assembly elections in 2008 and the general elections that followed in 2009 brought Rajasthan to a position where the accumulated losses of its discoms (power distribution companies) currently stands at Rs 50,000 crore. Power was bought at a little over Rs 8 a unit from the exchanges then. This is in stark contrast to the current Rs 2.76 a unit average price at the exchanges.
The BJP leaders hope that as Gujarat is a neighboring state and there is a striking cultural resemblence between Gujarat and Rajasthan, the active campaigning of Modi in Rajasthan would enable the BJP to gain a good number of seats, particularly in the western Rajasthan.
However, Congress leaders feel that the Modi factor can be limited if the party could put some intelligent people to educate the masses about the fact that as compared to a developed state like Gujarat, Rajasthan has done consistently well in reducing poverty.
“The Rajasthan government, between 2004-05 and 2011-12 has done creditable work to reduce poverty. The poverty rates of both the states had come below the national average of 21.9 per cent (meaning, proportion of people below the poverty line, or BPL) in 2011-12.
Gujarat had 16.6 per cent of its population as BPL in 2011-12. It was 14.7 per cent in Rajasthan, according to the latest figures on poverty. In 2004-05, Gujarat’s BPL proportion was 31.6 per cent of population; it was 34.4 per cent in Rajasthan, meaning, a decline of 19.7 percentage points in Rajasthan, versus 15 percentage points for Gujarat.
In rural Gujarat, the BPL percentage declined from 39.1 to 21.5 per cent; in rural Rajasthan, from 35.8 to 16.1. However, Gujarat had less of BPL in urban areas than Rajasthan in 2011-12. While 10.1 per cent of the population was poor in Gujarat’s towns, it was 10.7 per cent in urban Rajasthan. Even here, though, the reduction was steeper in Rajasthan. The rate in Gujarat was 20.1 per cent in its towns in 2004-05; it was 29.7 per cent in urban Rajasthan” explains Archana Sharma, Pradesh Congress spokesperson.
Although Rajasthan had lesser percentage of people in poverty during 2004-05 compared to the national average, it was the reverse in urban areas. India’s poverty rate was 37.2 per cent in 2004-05, of 25.5 per cent in urban areas and 42 per cent in rural parts. In 2011-12, it was 13.7 per cent in urban areas and 25.7 per cent in villages, nationally. Against this, 10.7 per cent of people in towns and 16.1 per cent in villages of Rajasthan were poor that year.
BJP spokesperson, Jyoti KIran counters the Congress claim by insisting that the process of poverty reduction started in the regime of the BJP when Vasundhara Raje was the Chief Minister from 2003 to 2008.
“The process of poverty reduction was initiated by the BJP and the Congress only reaped the benefits after 2008 in figures.” Said Jyoti Kiran.
But political pundits feel that in a state where there is no third front, both BJP and the Congress will find it tough even to get a simple majority. The pundits feel that in a house of 200 members, the Independents and
smaller parties like BSP will be the deciding factor.
In the 2008 elections, the Congress could manage just 96 seats, five short of a clear majority in the 200-member Assembly. Gehlot managed to consolidate the Congress party’s hold in the Assembly: six MLAs from the Bahujan Samaj Party merged their unit with the Congress. He secured the support of independents leading to numerical security. It’s not known how much authority Gehlot would be given in selecting the candidate, but given half an opportunity, he would be only too willing to do away with 30 percent of the sitting Congress MLAs. Gehlot, with a development agenda and new faces is likely to score over the BJP, however slender the margin be.
By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur