Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot climbed the few steps leading to the dais at the Birla Auditorium in Jaipur slowly and carefully. He was now off the wheelchair, almost two months since he fractured both his toes after a fall at his official residence in Jaipur. Gehlot was gradually resuming his public outreach activities.
The auditorium was awash with pink banners proclaiming Gehlot’s latest in a flurry of announcements he has made in the run-up to the year-end assembly elections. His ambitious ‘Mission 2030’ aims at transforming Rajasthan into the most developed state in the country by 2030.
For the past several months, Gehlot has made a concerted effort to come across as a leader whose primary concern is the welfare of the people. Pink banners and posters, featuring a smiling Gehlot and a slogan related to one of the numerous welfare schemes he has launched, have flooded the Rajasthan landscape ahead of the polls. He wants to be seen as a leader who has a vision for the state and is well equipped in terms of intent and planning to push it ahead on the road to development.
In Gehlot’s own words, Mission 2030 is an affirmation of his commitment to providing people with social security. He is also quick to draw a comparison of his initiatives with the Narendra Modi government, saying that he has urged the prime minister to bring in a Right to Social Security. “Providing social security to the people is a duty of the government. Welfare and development are interlinked. Mission 2030 is about ensuring the development of the state, keeping the wellbeing of the people at the heart of the exercise,” said Gehlot.
The exercise, coming as it does ahead of the elections, provides Gehlot with an opportunity to engage in a massive outreach programme, which will enable the ruling dispensation to not only reach out to the people about its schemes but also gather feedback from them on what they think about what has been offered to them so far and what their aspirations are. The aim is to reach one crore people.
The carefully curated launch programme also makes an effort to project Gehlot as a leader with no airs―as someone who pays attention to people’s views, concerns and aspirations. He interacts online with girl students from across the state, noting down their suggestions for Mission 2030. When an undergraduate at Rajkiya Meera Kanya Mahavidyalaya in Udaipur expressed her wish to do postgraduation from the same college, Gehlot announced that it would be done. By evening, orders were out allowing the college to offer postgraduate courses.
For the next one and a half months, consultations and surveys will be held at various levels to gather the views of stakeholders, including intellectuals, professionals, civil society groups and, most important, the common man. A website has been launched for people to submit suggestions. Also, a toll-free number will allow people to register their views telephonically. Essay contests will be held in schools and colleges based on the theme of Mission 2030. People can post their suggestions in video format, too, on social media. The aim is to be ready by the end of September with a roadmap to achieve Mission 2030. The Chief Minister’s Rajasthan Economic Transformation Advisory Council will draft the Mission 2030 document.
“The partnership with the people is the essence of the initiative,” said Planning Minister Mamta Bhupesh. “In the next one and a half months, we will go down to the grassroots level to gather views for the document. It will reflect the aspirations of the people.”
A closer look at Gehlot’s latest initiative shows his politically smart move to undertake a major outreach programme that strengthens his branding as a leader who cares. Welfarism is the Gehlot government’s main plank in the polls, in which the Congress seeks to change the electoral tradition of the state alternating between it and the BJP. Earlier, Gehlot had organised Mehangai Rahat camps (price-rise relief camps) that publicised his welfare schemes and projected him as a pro-welfare leader. Around 3,200 such camps were held across the state, with Gehlot himself visiting camps on a daily basis before he got injured. Around 400 camps have been made permanent.
Gehlot’s populism push includes schemes that range from free health care, medicines and electricity to free smartphones for women, free food packets for poor families, LPG cylinders at Rs 500 and the restoration of the Old Pension Scheme. “Aap mangte mangte thak jaoge, lekin mein dete dete thakunga nahi (You may tire of asking, but I won’t get tired of giving),” he has said in the past.
The opposition BJP has raised the issues of alleged corruption in the Gehlot government, atrocities against women and dalits, farmer suicides and unemployment, and the alleged appeasement of minorities by the Congress. “There is immense misery among the people. Every section of the society, be it farmers, women or the youth, are unhappy. They will not be taken in by the false promises of the Congress,” said state BJP president C.P. Joshi.
Gehlot, however, exuded confidence as he interacted with journalists. He said the government’s schemes have reached every home in the state and made an impact on every individual. “As many as 1.82 crore families benefited from the Mehangai Rahat camps,” he said. “That in itself shows how far the government’s schemes are impacting lives. Our schemes are getting featured in party manifestos in other states, too.”
With Mission 2030, Gehlot is also clearly indicating that he is not going anywhere. The message is meant for not just the BJP, but also other chief ministerial contenders within the Congress, especially his bête noire Sachin Pilot. After all, Mission 2030 goes way beyond the coming elections and has his imprint clearly etched on it.
Asked a question regarding this, Gehlot made light of it. “I have maintained whenever I have spoken about Mission 2030 that whoever may be at the helm in 2030, Rajasthan will be the most developed state. The welfare of the people is an issue close to my heart,” he said.
It is clear, though, that Gehlot’s branding for the election, linked intrinsically to his welfare measures, seeks another term for him as chief minister.