“One gets to sense the mood of the public. I have given five Budgets and each one had a new element in it and even the Opposition didn’t have anything to say. There is no mahaul [atmosphere] of anti-incumbency and it is mahaul that makes you win or lose an election,” Mr Gehlot said in an exclusive interview with The Hindu.
The Chief Minister also played down reports of intense factionalism between his supporters and his former deputy, Sachin Pilot.
“There is no divide in the Congress. We will contest the elections together and come back to power. It is a tradition in the Congress that we fight elections unitedly and then later the party high command decides who will be the Chief Minister,” Mr Gehlot said.
“When we are in the same party, we must fight the elections collectively as one cannot win an election alone,” he added.
Unhindered by the leadership tussle and factionalism in his party, Rajasthan Chief Ashok Gehlot maintained that the Congress will come back to power on the popularity of his government’s welfare schemes.
Rajasthan has a tradition of voting out a government every five years but you’ve been saying that you are confident of coming back to power. What is the basis of your confidence?
One gets to sense the mood of the public. I have given five Budgets and each one had a new element in it and even the Opposition didn’t have anything to say. There is no mahaul [atmosphere] of anti-incumbency and it is mahaul that makes you win or lose an election. In Kerala, even before the elections, the mood was that the [Left Front] government will repeat and that happened. We have seen the mood of the public during Rahul Gandhi ji’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in Rajasthan. The welfare schemes that we have launched, be it offering LPG cooking gas cylinders for ₹500, health insurance of ₹25 lakh for every household or making 100 units of electricity absolutely free, these schemes themselves are game changers. We are offering a minimum monthly income of ₹1,000 to almost one crore people in the form of old-age pension, widow pension, disability pension, income for single women and so on. In Rajasthan, 1.35 crore people are covered for ₹25 lakh under the Chiranjeevi Health Scheme whereas the Ayushman Bharat Scheme has a cap of ₹5 lakh as well as on the number of beneficiaries. No other State has a universal scheme like ours. The prevalent theme in our latest Budget is bachat, rahat, badhat [savings, relief and growth].
Do you think these sops alone can win you elections?
These schemes are part of good governance but our focus is also on implementation. We want Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi ji to now enact a right to social security law on the lines of the National Food Security Act and the Right to Education Act that were passed under the leadership of Dr. Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi ji. Rajasthan government has gone back to old pension scheme (OPS) which is also a security for government employees.
A lot of economists have written against our government, but my argument is that if we have financially managed OPS for 65 years why can’t we do it now. Even the Delhi High Court has said how can the government discriminate between OPS and new pension system (NPS). High Court judges are entitled to OPS while the lower court judges are covered by NPS, the paramilitary forces like BSF and ITBP also get NPS. Such discrimination creates a sense of insecurity among employees.
My emphasis is on a national law on social security that will also ensure uniformity of different kinds of pensions. Right now, different State Governments give different amounts.
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The BJP has criticised your government on a range of issues: from insulting the widows of Pulwama martyrs to the communal killing of Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur. How worried are you about a possible polarising narrative against your government?
I think our government’s goodwill is at the highest level and these attempts by the Opposition may only have some temporary effect. As far as the widows of the Pulwama martyrs are concerned, we have given them a package as per government rules. Let me tell you during the Kargil War, my previous government had come up with a package that guaranteed ₹25-lakh compensation, land along the Indira Gandhi canal, a house of the Rajasthan Housing Board and a government job that was reserved for the unborn child of a pregnant wife of a martyr. None can lecture me on honouring our bravehearts.
About the Udaipur incident, yes the issue could have flared up across the country but I had visited the family soon after the incident with the Chief Secretary and Director-General of Police to instil confidence among the family members. And we arrested the culprits in no time. There are always people who try to mislead but people see through the truth.
The Congress’ biggest problem in Rajasthan though is internal. The leadership tussle between you and Sachin Pilot is yet to be resolved and the Congress seems a divided house before the Assembly election.
There is no divide in the Congress. We will contest the elections together and come back to power. It is a tradition in the Congress that we fight elections unitedly and then later the party high command decides who will be the Chief Minister. When we are in the same party, we must fight the elections collectively as one cannot win an election alone.
There has been a perceptible change in your social media profile, with a clear focus on reaching out to the youth.
The idea is to take our welfare schemes to the public and make them understand. We had not invested much in publicity the way Modi ji or the Aam Admi Party have been marketing themselves. We are making a conscious effort now.