SINCE THE BEGINNING OF APRIL THIS YEAR, two road shows have drawn the people of Rajasthan out on the streets in spite of the intense summer heat. Two modified vans criss-crossed the state, their loudspeakers blaring slogans and songs. They never crossed paths, but both were pre-poll yatras, racing for the finish line—the state’s upcoming assembly elections at the end of the year.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) orange and green bus for their “Suraaj Sankalp Yatra” was the comeback vehicle of their recently appointed state president, former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, back on the streets of Rajasthan. She was doing exactly what she had done in 2003, when she embarked on a “Parivartan Yatra” that helped her win a sweeping majority, and become the first woman chief minister of Rajasthan. The Congress Party, for their part, chose a less colourful white bus to travel the state with their own “Sandesh Yatra”. Although it was announced after the BJP unveiled its roadmap for the Suraaj Sankalp Yatra, the Sandesh Yatra was off the blocks a few days before its rival. Much in keeping with the personality of its leader, the Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, this road show was less flamboyant and stuck to the basics—listing the government’s achievements, laying foundation stones, appearing at inaugurations, and taking the odd potshot at the opposition.
In 2008, an election the Congress won by the narrowest of margins, there had been no pre-poll yatras. Gehlot, who became chief minister for the second time with the 2008 poll victory, has, over the past few months, rolled out several new social welfare initiatives that should appeal to voters, but he knows that for a third term in office, he will have to overcome his main obstacle—the anti-incumbency factor. Primarily a two-party state, Rajasthan has in the past two decades kept it simple during the polls by voting out the incumbent party. In public perception, it is advantage Raje, and the general impression slowly gaining credence is that the BJP, led by her, will pull off a repeat of its 2003 victory in the state.