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Can CM Ashok Gehlot's 'Pro-Poor' Budget Help Him Return to Power in Rajasthan?

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot presented the last Budget of this term, with a clear social security focus. Will it work?

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On Friday, 10 February, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot delivered the last budget of his present term as CM. With a strong social security focus, Gehlot hopes the budget would help him break the state's three-decade old pattern of alternating power between the BJP and the Congress.

Now into his fifteenth year spread across three non-consecutive terms, Gehlot is already the second longest serving CM of Rajasthan after Mohan Lal Sukhadia who was CM for 16 years.

But the stakes have never been higher for Gehlot. There is a sentiment within the Congress that given the fiasco that took place between pro-Gehlot MLAs and the party high command during the Congress presidential election last year, the party may not project Gehlot ever again if it loses Rajasthan this time.

Therefore, the only way out for Gehlot is to somehow win the Assembly elections due later this year.

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  • But has he done enough in this Budget?

  • What's working for Gehlot and what isn't?

  • Where's Rajasthan politics headed in the run-up to the Assembly elections?

We will try to answer some of these questions in this piece.

Has Ashok Gehlot Done Enough in This Budget?

These are some of the key announcements made by Ashok Gehlot in the Budget:

  • Medical cover under Chiranjeevi Yojana increased to from Rs 10 lakh per family per year to Rs 25 lakh.

  • Ujjwala scheme consumers to get LPG cylinder at Rs 500, 76 lakh households to benefit from this.

  • 100 units per month free electricity to be provided to domestic consumers as compared to 50 units per month earlier

  • Old Pension Scheme to be implemented among personnel of various boards, corporations, academies and universities run by the government.

  • One-time registration to appear in competitive exams; no multiple fees to be charged

  • Inflation relief package of Rs 19,000 crore

  • Free Chief Minister Annapurna food packets every month along with free ration to about one crore families coming under the purview of the National Food Security Act which will include one kilogram pulses, sugar, salt and one litre edible oil.

  • Mukhyamantri Kamdhenu Bima Yojana to cover livestock

  • 1000 more Mahatma Gandhi English medium schools

  • Minimum pension of Rs 1000

  • No new taxes introduced

Gehlot's budget, no doubt, reflects a clear social security focus. But his critics say that many of the announcements made in the budget aren't new but expansion of existing schemes.

For instance, the increased cover under the Chiranjeevi Yojana and the hike in free electricity units. Then the number of meritorious students who will get free Scootys from the government has been increased from 20,000 to 30,000.

To this a government functionary close to the CM says, "His (Gehlot's) approach has always been incremental. He's not an event manager. When schemes are working well, what's the need for new schemes? It is more effective to expand existing schemes".

Gehlot's vision - or what he presents as the Rajasthan model - is a comprehensive social security net to protect the poorest and most vulnerable sections.

"It is easy to say this is like Kerala model. But Kerala gets a lot of revenue through remittances and the development challenges are nowhere comparable to what we face in Rajasthan. Providing the poor a comprehensive social security net in a state that was once considered part of 'BIMARU' - is a big achievement," the functionary said.

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What's Working for Gehlot and What Isn't?

What's working for Ashok Gehlot is that his personal image among the electorate remains positive. He is seen as a non-corrupt and grounded CM.

Then by and large, grounds reports suggest that his welfare schemes - especially the Chiranjeevi Yojana and the expansion of healthcare facilities - have worked well.

Communication, however, remains a major drawback.

Even on Budget day, much of the headlines focused less on the announcements and more on how Gehlot accidentally read a part of last year's Budget.

Communication and media management hasn't quite been his strong point, be it against the BJP or even his rivals in the Congress like Sachin Pilot.

The second major obstacle that Gehlot faces is that despite his welfare schemes working reasonably well on the ground, there is no surety that these would become the deciding factor in the elections.

An incident like the Udaipur killing of June 2022 or just simply a desire among voters to change the government every five years, could have an adverse effect on Gehlot's prospects.

The third obstacle, of course, is within his own party. The CM is already facing challenges from Sachin Pilot and Harish Chaudhary, both of whom have been favourites of the party high command at different points of time.

The high command's stand on Gehlot, too, isn't known especially after what happened during the presidential election.

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What Lies Ahead in Rajasthan?

Much of Gehlot's prospects would depend on what happens in the BJP. Former CM Vasundhara Raje and her supporters have been flexing their muscle for some time now.

But it is equally true that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the BJP has become much more centralised and it has become much more difficult for regional satraps like Raje to assert themselves.

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot presented the last Budget of this term, with a clear social security focus. Will it work?
Jaipur: BJP leader Vasundhara Raje addresses a press conference at her residence in Jaipur on Dec 11, 2018. (Photo: IANS)

How the BJP balances between accommodating Raje and ensuring that the high command calls the shots remains to be seen.

It is well known that Vasundhara Raje doesn't quite get along with Rajasthan BJP chief Satish Poonia. Poonia's term is coming to an end soon and Raje's camp is against him being given an extension.

The elevation of Leader of Opposition Gulabchand Kataria as governor of Assam, has already set a churn in motion in the Rajasthan BJP.

If the BJP fails to strike a balance, Gehlot could be in business. Raje is already once said to have tacitly helped Gehlot with her lukewarm response to Sachin Pilot's rebellion in 2020.

But if the BJP does project Raje, then it could weaken Gehlot's position. It would give his detractors like Pilot and Chaudhary to tell the Congress high command that persisting with Gehlot in a direct contest with Raje, could lead to a repeat of 2003 and 2013.

The challenge for Gehlot would be to keep the focus on his welfare schemes and ensure that they remain the talking point.

The manner in which hoardings were put up in the run-up to the Budget and that it was live streamed in colleges, indicates that Gehlot seems to have finally understood that communication and creating a spectacle is also important. This is a change from his approach so far. But is it too late?

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