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Raje & Modi factor wreck ‘freebie Gandhi’

Jaipur, Dec. 8: Vasundhara Raje rode a landslide to return to power in Rajasthan today, burying the Congress that suffered its worst defeat in recent memory and marking a milestone in Narendra Modi’s roadwork to Delhi.

The BJP has won 162 of the 199 seats it contested in the 200-constituency Assembly and the Congress a mere 21.

The sledgehammer performance of the BJP is being seen as a clear indication that the electorate has given a thumbs-down to chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s flagship schemes (“freebies”, according to critics) for the poor, implemented mostly in the past year.

The victory has also lent credence to a perception that Modi has indeed been a factor in getting the votes.

Raje acknowledged Modi’s role and said today: “The people of Rajasthan were tired of the non-governance of the Congress. It is something that follows from Delhi also. Narendra Modi was a very big factor because people have seen what he has done in Gujarat. Modi has shown how development happens in Gujarat and he has shown that this is a model that can be followed anywhere.”

She added: “The BJP governments in the states have been able to do this and that’s what the people of this country want. Modi has been a huge factor. This is also the semi-final to what is going to happen very shortly.”

Raje referred to Modi again while dedicating the result to BJP workers. “The victory is dedicated to the party workers who left no stone unturned. Party president Rajnath Singh and our prime ministerial candidate also spared time for the party in Rajasthan and I am thankful to them,” she said.

Gehlot, too, gave credit to Modi though indirectly. “She (Raje) sought votes in the name of Narendra Modi. And I don’t consider it to be her victory in the Rajasthan polls.”

The BJP has got its best-ever tally, 162, far higher than Raje’s 2003 win when she managed 120 seats. The Congress has been reduced to 21, the lowest ever. In the last elections in 2008, the BJP had bagged 78, while the Congress romped home with 96 seats and took the help of the BSP to form the government.

For Gehlot, 62, a two-term chief minister, the humiliating defeat would be hard to explain and may set his political career onto a path of oblivion. Often called the “Gandhi of Marwar” for his simple lifestyle, aversion to pomp and stress on schemes for the poor, Gehlot could not translate what have been perceived till now as assets into votes.

That Gehlot is largely seen as a 10 Janpath loyalist is expected to ensure that the drubbing will also be seen as a failure of the high command’s welfare plank.

Other than the over-dependence on “freebies”, faulty ticket distribution — such as giving tickets to the kin of tainted ministers and to non-performing ministers — appears to have spelt disaster for the Congress.

Gehlot’s social security and populist schemes cost the state exchequer around Rs 5,000 crore, and were considered the backbone of his poll plank, which found no takers and few voters.

His Metro project in Jaipur and the oil refinery at Barmer’s Pachpadra also did not work beyond a point.

Conceding defeat, Gehlot said: “They created an impression that all schemes have been put in place at election time. But you are witness, what we have done in the past years. And that implementation of the schemes was a time-consuming process.”

The role of Rahul Gandhi’s close aide C.P. Joshi, who was made the chief of the party’s poll panel and had a big hand in ticket distribution, would also be questioned. The rivalry between Joshi and Gehlot, the delay over the Congress’s list of candidates and the haggling over each seat are seen as some of the other reasons for the debacle.

Raje, on the other hand, was given a free hand to choose the candidates, packed the election committees with loyalists and brought the sulking rebels under her umbrella. The BJP’s first list of 176 candidates was declared at one go. She even managed to turn around the RSS, which had been miffed with her independent streak in the past.