Fear, Loathing and a Name Change on the Rajasthan Election Campaign Trail

The renaming of the 'Suraaj Gaurav Yatra' to a more generic 'Rajasthan Gaurav Yatra' may have been prompted by BJP not wanting to take any chances over ‘suraaj’ being twisted into ‘kuraaj’ in jokes and spoofs given misgovernance in the state and the recent spate of lynchings.

Jaipur: “What’s in a name?’ the heroine of Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet famously asked but in Rajasthan, politicians beg to differ. Especially when elections are round the corner and the matter relates to their favourite poll-time yatras (tours), nobody wants to take a chance over a name, particularly the BJP.

So when Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s much-hyped Suraaj Gaurav Yatra was suddenly renamed Rajasthan Gaurav Yatra, it raised dust as expected. While the BJP is trying to play down the nomenclature of the yatra from ‘suraaj’ (good governance) to a generic ‘Rajasthan’, the opposition has sprung up with allegations of conspiracy and ‘pilferage’.

BJP spokesperson Vimal Katiyar explained to the The Wire, “Madam Raje’s first yatra in 2003 was called parivartan (change), the second yatra in 2013 was called suraaj sankalp (resolve for good governance), and now it has been changed to Rajasthan Gaurav Yatra because the BJP has already provided suraaj to the state and that the state should take pride in it. Hence the coinage ‘Rajasthan gaurav yatra’ instead of ‘suraaj gaurav yatra’.”

The BJP’s 6,054 km yatra will pass through 165 assembly constituencies in a span of 40 days, where Raje is likely to advertise the good governance and welfare schemes and development she says she has provided, besides her party’s “nationalist” credentials. She is also expected to play the religious card as well, by visiting temples and seeking the blessings of various saints and yogis.

Not many are buying the BJP’s explanation about the name change.

Political analysts wonder why the BJP even thought of changing the name when the yatra is essentially to focus on the ‘good governance’ the BJP government has supposedly given in these last four years. Or is the BJP itself in a dilemma about blowing its own trumpet about ‘suraaj’, when many events in the past four years actually point otherwise?

The recent rise in hate crimes across the state – the mob lynchings of Rakbar Khan and Pehlu Khan, both dairy farmers from Haryana’s Mewat region, in Alwar, the murder of a migrant labourer in Rajsamand, the brazenness of the gau rakshaks and the lacklustre response of the government to book the culprits are only a few instances that suggest the BJP’s governance in Rajasthan is anything but ‘suraaj’.

BJP leaders are also aware of the growing disenchantment within the Rajput community, especially over gangster Anandpal’s encounter and the controversy over the release of the film Padmavati. Added to that is the brewing dissatisfaction amongst farmers, teachers, doctors, traders and youth over unemployment, the closure of around 17,000 schools and the suspension of some welfare schemes launched by the previous government.

Coupled with anti-incumbency, shocking bypoll defeats in February and Raje’s inaccessibility amongst workers, there is a big question mark over this government’s good governance claims.

Political observers say that must be why the BJP preferred to play it safe, renaming the yatra from ‘suraaj’ to the more basic and all-purpose ‘Rajasthan’.

Raje’s recent statement on Rakbar Khan’s lynching is not likely to help the BJP either. She had said that lynchings happened all over the world and not in Rajasthan alone.

“It [lynching] happens all over the world, that’s not something happening in Rajasthan alone and if somebody is trying to say why wasn’t she listening and why wasn’t she doing anything… it is very difficult because if at 12’o clock in the night in some remote part of Rajasthan something like this happens, I would have to be rather much than god to know exactly what is really happening,” Raje said.

Interestingly, Raje blamed the lynchings on lack of jobs and people’s anger growing out of helplessness. “This is the problem that stems out of population explosions. People want jobs, they are frustrated that they are not able to get jobs. There is frustration which is spreading across communities and people… It’s not something that is coming out of the state. It’s coming out of the people’s angry reaction to their circumstances,” she said.

Ironically, Raje’s statement throws a question mark over the official employment statistics her government has put out. State home minister Gulab Chand Kataria said in the state assembly that the government had provided employment opportunities to 1.3 million people. “Under the skill training scheme, 994,520 people have been trained so far, out of which 639,000 have got employment,” Kataria said.

Although Raje had promised 1.5 million jobs to youths in 2013, her government’s claim of 1.3 million jobs would be creditable if true – and certainly not be a reason to despair considering how bad the situation is in several other states.

But political analysts say the real picture of jobs generated and employment provided is not as rosy as it has been shown.

Narayan Bareth, a political commentator, said, “It is too little and too late now. And skill training is definitely not secure jobs. Once they have been trained, they have to find their ways of entrepreneurship or opening up small ventures. Not an easy task when capital is in short supply for most. So the promised 1.5 million jobs to the unemployed youth is far from fulfilled. Although she has promised 0.18 million government jobs in this year’s budget, the aam aadmi understands that these are all just poll-related gimmicks.”

Vasundhara Raje initiating the ‘Rajasthan Gaurav Yatra’. Credit: BJP Rajasthan/Twitter

Raje has often insisted that she does not succumb to populism and would never bust the bank as she doesn’t believe in good politics and bad economics. But tall claims over ‘good politics and bad economics’ all came to nought when the BJP suffered shocking bypoll defeats in the Alwar and Ajmer Lok Sabha seats and in the Mandalgarh assembly seat. It had the party reworking its ‘grassroots connect strategy’ with the masses.

Raje admitted then that there was indeed a disconnect with the people. Party workers, MLAs and officers working on the ground, she said, had failed to maintain the right contact and not been sensitive enough to public grievances.

According to Katiyar, “Raje’s yatra is also to enthuse the booth level party workers, to interact with them and help them create an atmosphere before the polls so that they are able to mobilise the voters to ink the BJP.”

So before Raje rolls out her air-conditioned rath from the Charbhuja temple on Aug 4, the BJP MPs have been instructed to go on ‘pravas’ (journey) for a day to each assembly segment of their Lok Sabha constituency and prepare the ground for the success of Raje’s yatra.

Although Raje’s main opposition, Congress, has not announced any yatra as of now, Raje would have to counter her former party colleague and now rival, the Bharat Vahini leader Ghanshyam Tiwari. Tiwari, who had named his own yatra as Bharat Gaurav Yatra days earlier, charged the BJP with stealing the name of his yatra just a few days before it is due to kickstart on August 19. Alleging plagiarism of his yatra’s name, Tiwari said that while it was unethical to usurp the name of someone else’s rally, it also demonstrated the ruling party’s intellectual bankruptcy.

Twisting the term suraaj to kuraaj (bad governance) and taking a dig at Raje, Tiwari claimed the royal Scindias from Gwalior had always looted Rajasthan and its people for generations. Quoting from a book by historian Gaurishankar Ojha, he said the Charbhuja temple in Rajsamand district, from where Raje is expected to start her yatra, was also looted by the Scindias and that 22 warriors had sacrificed their lives to protect the temple. “And now they have come down to looting the name of yatra as well,” Tiwari said.

Being the chief minister, with a much bigger entourage and outreach, Raje’s ambitious yatra is likely to attract more people if not convert them into actual voters. Political observers say, the BJP may not be optimistic about Raje’s winnability in the state, factoring in the anti-incumbency and Rajasthan’s penchant to vote out the ruling party every five years.

The instructions to MPs to tour the interiors of the state is thus a clear indication to make the campaign more Prime Minister Narendra Modi-centric rather than Raje-centric, keeping an eye on the bigger battle of 2019.

But the state BJP is not ready to take any chances over suraaj being twisted to kuraaj and the consequent jokes that are likely to follow on the social media. Political observers, however, wonder if a party as strong as the BJP can really be troubled by word-play. Or is there a real fear that in light of recent events in the state, people may just find kuraaj a more suitable expression than suraaj? That definitely would not augur well for the state BJP, Raje and 2019 ahead.

As BJP insiders say, the slogan this time is “Modi se bair nehi, Vasundhara ki khair nehi” (we have nothing against Modi, but we won’t let Vasundhara escape).