The forthcoming Rajasthan Assembly elections promise to be landmark elections in a different way. These polls are witnessing a return of populist politics in a big way with the Congress going full throttle on this count.

Political observers see these polls as a contest between the populism being dished out by the Congress and the ‘development’ narrative of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has mainly revolved around the achievements of the Narendra Modi led government in the Centre, with a dash of its brand of nationalism.

“No matter what the results are, the Congress under Ashok Gehlot has rolled the populist dice in a manner that it is a stiff challenge for the BJP. The question of course remains whether the Congress can buck the trend of the state having an alternate government every time there is an assembly poll,” said a political observer based in Jaipur.

“Gehlot has set the trend with certain landmark initiatives. The first among these is to make Rajasthan the first state in the country to pass a Right to Health Act (RTH). The second is the implementation of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) that is threatening to become a national issue in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, and might be a big challenge for the BJP to address.

“He has taken the issue further ahead by promising to bring about legislation on the OPS so that no one can withdraw the social security benefits of the employees easily thereafter. This is a major sop in the offing,” he added.

The Election Commission reportedly giving a green signal for issuing four percent dearness allowance to the pensioners and government employees along with bonus for around six lakh employees ahead of Diwali is also being seen as a positive for the Gehlot government.

“One can gauge the scenario from the fact that all the noise created by private hospitals while opposing the RTH is nowhere to be seen in the poll narrative till now. It is true that the detractors of Gehlot are trying to trumpet the charges if not many people having been enrolled in the Mukhyamantri Chiranjeevi Swasthya Bima Yojana, another populist scheme or getting benefits under the RTH but the fact remains the people are hopeful of getting these benefits if not now, maybe later and this counts,” the observer added.

Another first by the Gehlot government that is being pointed at by the observers is the Rajasthan government passing a law for the welfare of gig workers, a substantial workforce that has emerged in the country over the last few years.

The Rajasthan Platform Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, 2023 pertains to those who work outside of a traditional employee-employer relationship. Besides looking at establishing a welfare fund for these workers, the Act reportedly recognises the rights of gig workers and aims at establishing a welfare board for them.

Gehlot’s opponent for two decades, in the context of being Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje seems to be the foremost in the BJP to have read the undercurrents of the populist narrative being set by the Congress. Seen as a leader sidelined for these polls as the BJP has not gone into the battle making her the chief ministerial face unlike on the previous occasions, Raje has started responding on the populist front reminding the people of the welfare schemes her government had introduced.

In a recent tweet she said, “Good work by BJP, Rajasthan has not forgotten! Earlier, many cases of disputes related to agricultural land and residence remained pending in the court for years. Under the 'Nyay Aapke Dwar' campaign, our BJP government had disposed of more than 1 crore 42 lakh cases by setting up Revenue Lok Adalats in all the villages across the state.”

She is also taking on the Congress for the announcements being made by the senior leaders of the grand old party. “As soon as the elections come, Congress has again come before the public with false promises like before. Just a few days ago Priyanka Gandhi ji announced that if the Congress government is elected again, she will give Rs 10,000 per year to every woman.

“They know that Congress is not going to come, what is the point in speaking. However, this promise is also similar to the promise of his brother Rahul, in which he had said that the entire loan of farmers will be waived off within 10 days as soon as the government is formed. Full five years have passed but till date the loans of the farmers have not been waived,” she said in another tweet.

Her response is in stark contrast to the other BJP leaders who are either playing up the achievements of the central government till now or are going hammer and tongs with allegations of misgovernance.

“The right wing leaders are also trying to raise communal issues by making references to the incidents reported from Udaipur and Jaipur. They are also trying to play up the issue of Pakistani Hindus being evicted from government land in Jaisalmer in May this year. Whether these issues are weighed over and above the populism offered by the Congress remains to be seen,” said the observer.

Observers are pointing out that even some of the hard line critics of the Congress and supporters of the Modi regime have praised schemes like Mukhyamantri Chiranjeevi Yojana on social media, something the Congress is taking to town in a big way. “Ground Feedback from #Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot’s Chiranjeevi Yojana is a Massive Silent Hit. It’s worked wonderfully for 2 yrs with 25 lakh operations, each costing Rs 500 only. @narendramdi ji @AmitShah ji, @JPNadda ji, Pls take this into consideration while making the BJP manifesto. Pranam,” said a tweet shared by a source.

The Congress is meanwhile playing up the guarantees Gehlot had announced last week promising a set of populist measures to the people that included a legislation on OPS, tablets to government college students, Rs 15 lakh insurance cover to losses incurred during natural disaster, smartphones with complimentary internet services to one crore women for three years, English medium education for every student and purchasing cow dung for Rs 2 per kg.

“’Congress Guarantee Yatra’ is being started to extend the benefits of Congress guarantees to every person in Rajasthan. Bust wishes to all the nominated in-charges and coordinators for making the Yatra successful. Our aim is that every village and town of Rajasthan should benefit from Congress guarantees,” announced Gehlot in a social media post on Tuesday.