At 72, Ashok Gehlot is leading the Congress in Rajasthan from the front, fighting to ensure a comeback. Representing Sardarpura in Jodhpur since 1999, Gehlot is very much the party’s lynchpin in the State and commands the most support within the organisation. He is aware that a formidable challenge awaits him in this election as he is expected to guarantee a victory, one that will make him Chief Minister for the fourth time. While placing his confidence in the welfare schemes and guarantees, Gehlot has also uncharacteristically made repeated references about his loyalty to the Gandhi family and party president Sonia Gandhi. Excerpts from an interview with Frontline:
Does the Congress have a good chance of returning to power? If yes, why?
Absolutely, the Congress is coming back to power. Our confidence stems from the fact that we have served the people from our hearts in the last five years. We have tried our best to ensure that our welfare initiatives are not just announced but delivered to the doorsteps of the people. I believe we have done fairly well. The Mehngai Rahat Camps are testament to this. More than 1.8 crore families registered for it and 8.02 crore Guarantee Cards were delivered. We are now promising seven more guarantees, based on which people will decide to vote for us again.
Is the Congress united in the real sense? In a tightly contested election, this can be important.
Our party is one, under the leadership of Mallikarjun Khargeji, Sonia Gandhiji, and Rahul Gandhiji. We are all working towards the same goal, which is to win the trust of the people of Rajasthan.
How do you plan to address the anti-incumbency factor against MLAs, especially those the party has renominated?
There is no anti-incumbency for the Congress. The people of Rajasthan will vote us back to power because of our welfare schemes and our pro-poor agenda.
“The people of Rajasthan will vote us back to power because of our welfare schemes and our pro-poor agenda.”
The opposition says a huge burden will fall on the exchequer with the welfare schemes. How do you plan to address this?
Our economic parameters are better than any other North Indian State, according to Niti Aayog data. You will be surprised to know that Rajasthan’s economic growth is 11.04 per cent, second only to Andhra Pradesh in the country.
Do you anticipate leadership issues if your party returns to power?
Leadership issues are not decided by me; we have set protocols by the High Command. My focus is to win for the Congress party, and I want to win for my leaders, Khargeji, Sonia Gandhiji, and Rahul Gandhiji.
Will your government, if elected, do a caste census?
The Rajasthan government has already decided to conduct a caste census, becoming the second State in the country to undertake this significant exercise. The decision reflects our commitment to ensuring social justice and crafting policies informed by accurate demographic data.
Will the Enforcement Directorate raids against your son Vaibhav and Govind Dotasra affect your party adversely?
We see these ED raids as political tactics by the opposition due to their nervousness about the election results. The ED is harassing the Congress because the BJP is losing this election. They have the ED, I have seven guarantees. The people of Rajasthan are wise and can see through these actions, which we believe will not impact their trust and support for us that we have gained by working for their welfare and development.
Did the Bharat Jodo Yatra galvanise party workers? Is there a need for more such yatras and campaigns?
The initiative taken by Rahul Gandhiji for peace and unity and to address economic disparity have definitely galvanised not just Congress workers but the public at large. This is because they see our commitment to this cause for which Rahul Gandhiji undertook this nationwide yatra.