The ruling Congress has sought to put the spotlight on big-ticket welfare schemes and development projects it introduced at different points of time during the last five years.
But the development and welfare plank has largely been a sideshow in a campaign that has primarily been conducted on two levels: at a macro level, it’s a personal fight between current Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and the BJP aspirant Vasundhara Raje and, at the micro level, contests continue to be fought on the age-old issues of caste, community and religion.
Interestingly, these issues have been at work right from the selection of candidates by all major parties to the casting of votes. Development practitioners wonder if there is indeed a correlation between growth and governance. To put it in context, do social schemes like free medicine and universalised pensions make for good politics? More importantly, how does the new-age voter make his crucial choices?
Constituency visits across the State suggest that while the flagship welfare schemes do have an impact, the ultimate decision to vote for a particular candidate is shaped largely by local factors. They include the candidate’s relations with local people, accessibility, if he or she gets people’s “work” done, and finally, who the community is voting for.
In Digo, falling under State Minister Parsadilal Meena’s Assembly segment Lalsot, people acknowledge the works done by the Minister but leave no opportunity to question the efficacy of flagship schemes.
“Free medicines? Where? The Health Centre here opens once a week if we are lucky... who will disburse the free medicines?” says Balram, a young resident.
But that’s not the case everywhere. In western Rajasthan, the scheme involving supply of free medicines for cattle has undoubtedly provided relief to the common man. “My camels are my biggest asset but when one of these animals falls ill, it costs me Rs.10,000 to Rs.15,000. The government’s free medicines take a load off our pockets when that happens,” says Kheema Ram from Osian.
Welfare schemes targeting minorities, Dalits and tribals have managed to strike a chord with people from these communities. But there are others who are complaining. “The government has given out cash and other facilities such as scholarships to minorities, SCs and STs. But what about us from the general communities? Besides, all that cash distribution has left a burden on the economy,” says Chauth Singh from Kalau village near Jodhpur.
In addition to welfare schemes, the Ashok Gehlot government has undertaken several initiatives of infrastructure development, investment and governance. The first two are represented by the Jaipur Metro and oil refinery in Barmer, while the governance initiatives are reflected in legislation like the Guaranteed Delivery of Public Services Act, Right to Hearing Act and the statutory right to recall representatives in the local bodies.
Even though the Opposition BJP has criticised the flagship schemes and questioned the ruling party’s intent, the Congress has pointed out that the State had earned revenue surplus during the last three years, leading to a reduction in fiscal deficit and availability of funds for operating the schemes.
The size of the 2013-14 State Plan is to the tune of Rs.40,500 crore. It remains to be seen if the social schemes, which also mirror recommendations of the UPA government’s National Advisory Council, would swing the votes in Congress’s favour, trumping the issues of caste and community unique to each constituency.