In Rajasthan, the land of the kings, regaining power seems to be easier than retaining power. The last three Assembly elections have gone decisively against the incumbent, with both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress relying on a strong negative vote to get their turn in government. As Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and BJP leader Vasundhara Raje prepare for a face-off in the December 1 election, the odds are clearly against Mr. Gehlot. Despite initiating some social welfare schemes in the last five years, the Chief Minister knows he will also be judged by what his opponents propose to do in the next five. Not surprisingly, both parties have come up with competing populist election manifestos promising many things to most people. The Congress manifesto promises five lakh jobs in the next five years. Whether this would find favour with the electorate is another question since the hard reality is that only one lakh youth found jobs in the last five years of the party’s rule. Gujjars, who have been demanding separate reservation, have now been promised five per cent reservation by the Congress. Special Backward Class communities such as Raika, Banjara and Gaadiya Lohar have also been chosen for the promise of reservation benefits. But some of these might only remain promises if they run into legal hurdles. Given that there was very little forward movement in granting these reservation benefits during the last five years, many in these communities might not take these promises of the ruling party seriously.
At the present political moment, the promises of the main opposition appear to carry more weight than the ruling party. Thus, the BJP’s assurance of removing all constitutional impediments in extending reservation as Special Backward Classes to Gujjars and other tribes seems to hold more meaning for the voters. In terms of numbers too, the BJP outdid the Congress by holding out a promise of 15 lakh jobs. In the 2008 election, one of the highlights of the Congress manifesto was a promise to improve the dismal power situation. It is no credit to the five-year-rule of the Congress that the BJP could find resonance with the voters by promising 24-hour power supply to domestic consumers. The Gehlot government’s performance thus pales in comparison to the BJP’s promises. With the voters having to choose between the Congress and the BJP, dissatisfaction with the Gehlot government automatically translates into votes for the BJP. Only good governance and strong social welfare schemes could have countered the lure of the BJP’s promise. But the Congress’s performance seems to have fallen short when measured against the BJP’s promise.