A distinct change in poll strategies is coming to the fore in Rajasthan ahead of the state Assembly elections scheduled later this month. On display are the layers and intricacies of the society in the state in terms of traditional loyalties and caste combinations.

No matter what the results are, these elections are being described as something different from what the people of the state have witnessed over the last three and a half decades.

To begin with, there is a different strategy on display from the Congress, that marks a major change. It is the regional leadership under Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot that is largely driving the poll campaign with the so-called high command playing second fiddle.

Observers point out that this is in stark contrast to what was visible till sometime back in different states. “You can see that the central leadership has not had many events or rallies in the state till now. Gehlot is playing up the populist schemes of his government which till now appears to be working in terms of being a part of public discourse.

The people might vote for anyone but they are not criticising the initiatives of the government.

“Second, it is for the first time since the 1980s that anti-incumbency against the Chief Minister or the government is not visible as such. Anti-incumbency is instead visible against individual ministers and legislators. The Congress could have gained by dropping the candidature of such characters but it could not muster the strength to do so,” an observer said.

It is being pointed out that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going into the battle with a head start given the tradition of the people electing alternative governments and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) having made deep inroads everywhere since the mid 1980s. Yet nobody is confidently saying that the battle will be a one sided affair.

The high number of rebels and even those who are not contesting as rebels but have expressed their resentment having been denied tickets from either party are showing the potential to be the game changers in the event of a close tally emerging after the results.

The BJP has also changed its strategy in the state this time deciding to go into the battle without a chief ministerial face and instead relying on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face and popularity. “There is a catch here. In several previous elections in different states, peddling Modi’s image has often meant a change in momentum for the BJP. But this is not visible in Rajasthan till now. Another interesting factor on display is that this time around there is more groupism visible within the BJP as compared to the Congress,” the observer said.

The initial treatment meted out to former CM Vasundhara Raje by the central leadership of the BJP in terms of announcing her candidature in the second list only after witnessing a furore and also denying tickets to some of her loyalists is also having an impact in the public discourse.

A case in point here's the denial of a ticket to close Raje loyalist Yunus Khan. He not only quit the BJP but has filed his nomination as an independent from Deedwana from where he has won the polls twice. He held a show of strength on Saturday.

Observers say that the BJP is going full throttle on Hindutva while not fielding any candidates from the minority Muslim community. It is being pointed out that there were certain social traits of Vasundhara Raje that always worked for the party in the past.

With confidants like Yunus Khan she had a reach among the minority community. Coming from the Scindia dynasty of Gwalior, married to a Deswali Jat and the fact that her son married into a Gujjar household made Raje popular across the spectrum.

It is also being underlined that the unceremonious replacement of Satish Punia who is a Jat with CP Joshi earlier this year has also upset not only the Jats but a section of the other backward castes (OBCs) as well. These are intricate challenges that the BJP has to address.

In the Congress too it will be a challenge for Sachin Pilot to get maximum support from the Gujjar community.

On the campaign front the BJP is going aggressive attacking the Gehlot government on misgovernance while also bringing into its narrative the Ram Temple at Ayodhya scheduled to be inaugurated in January next year.

This was evident from the rallies and rathsabhas addressed by union home minister Amit Shah on Tuesday at Kuchaman, Makrana, Parbatsar and Bidiyad where he accused the Congress government of corruption and indulging in the politics of appeasement even as he called for a ‘double engine’ government in the state.

Launching an attack on Gehlot and his descent from a family of magicians, Shah said, “Employment has been made to vanish along with law and order. Only a magician can make so many things disappear. When it comes to giving electricity, health security, law and order, this can only be done by a government of lotus (BJP’s poll symbol).”

On the other hand Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge while speaking in a rally in Jodhpur took on the Modi government for using central agencies like Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax against the opposition right before the polls. He described these agencies as ‘Jawans’ of the BJP.

He said that just before the Prime Minister is scheduled to hit the campaign trail, he sends these agencies to target the opposition parties. “On his watch the rich are becoming richer while the poor are becoming poor,” he said while referring to Modi and taking a swipe at favours allegedly being doled out to the corporates.

Meanwhile, Gehlot has been sticking to the populist plank of working for the people. In a recent tweet he said, “Once again! Congress guarantee camp started in Rajasthan. After inflation relief camps which are synonymous with savings, relief and progress, these camps will now become drivers of 10 times progress. Go to the camp nearest to you, understand the guarantees given by Congress and the benefits you get from them and get your guarantee today!!”

Vasundhara on the other hand sounded a note of caution when she tweeted after a visit to Baran, “Our workers should not be overconfident. You have to stay in the field as much as possible and inform the public about the schemes of the Modi government and the public welfare works of our previous BJP government. Also, it has to be ensured that the BJP flag flies on all the seats of Baran. Jai Jai Rajasthan!”

She made another interesting remark inferring that she could retire now as her son Dushyant Singh who represents Jhalawar Baran seat in the Parliament has been progressing as a people’s representative. Some observers feel that till now she has kept her campaign focused mainly on the seats from where her loyalists are in fray.