Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot faces a crucial test in the 2013 assembly elections, due in December. No government in Rajasthan has held power for two consecutive terms. But Gehlot, who has been touring the state for the Congress’s Sandesh Yatra, says the feedback from the people has been positive.
Gehlot defends himself in the face of charges from the BJP. Excerpts:
You have launched many welfare schemes ahead of elections. Are you counting on them to get you back in power?
Schemes are only one part. Our main achievement has been good governance. We have brought a concept of social security that the government has tried to implement. Rajasthan has put the concept before the country through schemes like BPL housing, pension scheme, food security, Right to Hearing, Lok Seva Guarantee Act, Transparency Act.
Moreover, we have launched projects for developing industry, providing potable water, becoming self-sufficient in power, providing roads in villages, bus connectivity to remote areas. We have done much more work than the BJP.
Many of your schemes are women-oriented. Is this a conscious attempt to reach out to women voters?
We have always laid emphasis on accountability, transparency and sensitivity. And our schemes are a reflection of that whether it is the Janani Shishu Suraksha yojana, cycles to class 9 and 10 girls in rural areas, discounted travel for women in buses or pension to single women.
Do you think Gujarat’s model of development is a success? Do you think Narendra Modi will be able to take the BJP-led NDA to victory?
No. Gujarat has always been a developed state. The development that is happening there is not balanced. We are giving all round development which is not happening in Gujarat. Modi is very good at marketing himself and has a strategy chalked out but the people of the country will never accept him.
Your schemes are good but there is a feedback that they are not reaching the people due to shortage of staff.
Yes, there is shortage of doctors and teachers. It is true of all states. It’s not easy to find doctors for rural areas. But we are making efforts, we have started recruitment. All departments have been asked to ensure also that they have equipment they need.
Do you feel the Barmer refinery issue will prove costly to Congress in the elections? The Jat voters in that area are angry with the Congress.
It is a non-issue. I don’t think Jat voters are upset with the Congress. The issue is development of Barmer. It will be good for the future development of Barmer. It is not in my constituency and 30 km here or there does not matter, the refinery is still in Barmer. The issue should not be politicized.
You have touring widely. How has the response been? What do you think of the opposition’s campaign?
The response has been very good. People have responded positively to our government’s good work. I am saddened that the language being used by the opposition in the campaign is derogatory. It is distressing but since the opposition has no issues they are resorting to such things.
Do you think infighting in the Congress will have a negative impact in the elections? Infighting will not have any impact.
Yes, all parties have some infighting and there can be differences of opinion between leaders but dissidence will not affect prospects of the Congress.
Do you feel it is possible to weed out criminals from the political system? Congress has said it will not give tickets to tainted candidates.
Yes, we try to give tickets to those with a clean image. Criminals in politics has become a big issue of late and the Supreme Court too has come down hard on barring criminals from contesting elections.
This is a welcome step but I feel till a leader is convicted for a crime, he should be allowed to contest elections. Otherwise there can be instances when a leader is barred due to some false cases foisted on him or her by opposition leaders which would be unfair.