Outgoing Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje refused to answer questions about her loss at a press conference on December 12, a day after the assembly election results were declared. This has been her general practice the last five years.
She rarely called a presser and even if she did, refused to take any questions. She only fielded questions – decided beforehand – when she decided to give interviews to select media.
Can we describe this as Raje’s arrogance, non-transparency or overconfidence that crept in after she secured a huge mandate for the BJP in 2013? Or is it just a manifestation of personality-centred politics – an aura of invincibility as Rajasthan’s biggest vote catcher?
Some say even her ministers were as arrogant as she was. At least 11 of her cabinet ministers and nine state ministers have lost the recent polls.
Yet Raje has relentlessly worked on the ground. She has taken out multiple yatras in the last five years to keep in touch with the masses through various programmes like ‘Sarkar Aapke Dwar’, Gaurav yatras and several others.
The anger against Vasundhara Raje is difficult to decipher, given that she is the only one who has managed to fetch the BJP such huge numbers in the assembly. In Rajasthan, the people’s anger is directed against Raje and not Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The people have not said they will not vote for Modi in 2019.
So how do we understand BJP’s defeat here?
One of the primary reasons talked about is people’s disaffection with many Central schemes and policy decisions like the Goods and Services Tax, demonetisation and rising prices. The people have targeted Raje and her government to vent their anger.
In Raje’s arrogance and misgovernance, the BJP will likely find alibis for its loss in order to insulate Modi and Amit Shah from popular anger. Raje’s reported differences with the central leaders have been talked about quite often. There is now speculation that Raje may want a central role, which will effectively transfer her out of Rajasthan.
The slogan ‘Modi se bair nahi, Raje teri khair nahi (No enmity towards Modi but Raje you will not be spared)’ has been doing the rounds for a while now. This is despite the fact that Raje’s reform initiatives have been one of a kind. She has been at the forefront of taking bold decisions: amending three archaic central laws – the Industrial Disputes Act, the Contract Labour Act and the Factories Act, to make it easier for industry to both hire and fire in the state.
Her initiative to attract investors to the state led to the Rajasthan Investment Region Bill, Rajasthan Urban Land Bill and Rajasthan Land Pooling Scheme Bills. All three were passed to make the process of land acquisition faster and easier for investors.
Her reforms in education such as merging of schools to bring in quality, rather than quantity, and her Bhamashah Yojana for women, and decision to recognise women as heads of the family, so that all financial and non-financial benefits of government schemes are transferred directly to the account holder, were far-sighted and well thought out.
The Annapurna Rasoi Yojana, where the poor and needy were given cheap but quality food at Rs 5, much along the lines of Tamil Nadu’s Amma canteen, with the tagline, ‘Sabke liye bhojan, sabke liye samman (food and dignity for everyone)’, hinged on the idea of social justice. Raje also launched the Bhamashah Digital Parivar Yojana which aimed at providing Rs 1,000 aid to one crore poor families.
Many analysts and Rajasthan watchers believe that Raje’s reforms and initiatives, though ground-breaking in principle, did not have much of an impact on ground. These schemes were not publicised well enough despite the BJP’s efforts among cadre-based booth-level workers.
Although Raje maintained that she wanted to take everybody along when she took charge in 2013, she had her set of detractors. Her association with the RSS, which had been uneasy, became less tense. She also talked about being a woman and having to tackle many things other than heading the administration. Her landslide 2013 win silenced many of her critics.
Maybe her detractors were waiting for an opportune moment to strike. The recent polls may have given them exactly that opportunity. But Raje will not be written off that easily.
Just being a good administrator doesn’t help. Humility in a politician is the need of the times. Raje needs to imbibe that humility if she wants to stay on in the electoral race.