Ashok Gehlot – Battling the odds

Ashok Gehlot, the 62-year-old incumbent Chief Minister of Rajasthan, is arguably Congress’ tallest leader in the state.

Hemant Abhishek

Ashok Gehlot, the 62-year-old incumbent Chief Minister of Rajasthan, is arguably Congress’ tallest leader in the state. The three-time MLA from Sardarpura, Jodhpur, first served as CM between 1998 and 2003; and from 2008 onwards for his second term.

Gehlot entered politics in 1970s and became the national president of the National Students’ Union of India in 1974. Known for his political skills and management, he has served as minister in the central cabinets of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narsimha Rao. In the mid-90s, he shifted his focus to his home-state Rajasthan and led Congress to victory twice.

The 2013 Rajasthan Assembly elections however seem like a different kettle of fish both for Gehlot and Congress - in the state, as well as in the Centre. He is faced with strong factionalism within his own party with CP Joshi rising in the ranks threateningly.

Gehlot’s second stint as the CM has been anything but uneventful. He has faced allegations of corruption and nepotism during the term. Gehlot has denied charges that as a CM he went out of his way to facilitate lucrative assignments to companies that involved his son, Vaibhav. Reports of him misusing his position to benefit his kith and kin have also done the rounds. Opposition has accused him of violating rules and regulations in the allotment of sandstone mines in Jodhpur to his close relatives.

A major ruckus erupted when his political opponents claimed that his “popularity” on social media was in fact a managed stunt. When his Facebook page suddenly evinced the highest number of likes from Istanbul, Turkey (it was earlier Jaipur), the BJP said he had bought ‘likes’ from IT firms based in the Middle East.

Communal flare-ups in places like Bharatpur, Tonk and Sanganer; and his supposed weak-handed approach to dealing with those too has reportedly dented his image. The lowest point of Gehlot’s term arguably was the scandalous Bhanwari Devi murder, a case that involved the then minister in his cabinet, Mahipal Maderna and another Congress MLA, Malkhan Singh Bishnoi.
At the Congress Chintan Shivir in Jaipur in January this year, Congress’ biggies reportedly asked Gehlot to work on the party’s battered image in the state which subsequently led to a slew of announcements and sops in the state budget this year. And this has redeemed his stature in the state to a certain extent, psephologists say.
For the past two decade and a half, no chief minister in the state has successfully defended his chair, and in the face of seemingly increasing pro-BJP wave coupled with a dissatisfied electorate – history may well repeat itself in Rajasthan again.