Rajasthan elections: CM Gehlot locks horns with PM Modi
Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin has described Gehlot as "the eyes and ears of the non-BJP states"
Diwali over, electioneering has once again picked up momentum in Rajasthan as the polling day of 25 November draws closer, and the political fireworks are going off with gusto. None more so than those unleashed by incumbent Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP's electioneering seems yet to pick up steam, and there is a strange resistance among the saffron party cadre, who are reportedly unhappy with the selection of over 40 candidates for the 200-member assembly, who according to them were 'non-performers' who should have been replaced.
While rebel party workers threaten to cause the BJP considerable damage, the party has little option but to wait for yet another visit by the prime minister, who remains its superstar campaigner in the state. In the past few months, PM Modi has paid 12 visits to Rajasthan, and all these visits have been used to criticise the Gehlot government.
Barring Gehlot, and to a certain extent Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, no other chief minister in the country has locked horns with the prime minister on so many different issues. So much so that Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin has described Gehlot as "the eyes and ears of the non-BJP states".
On Wednesday, addressing an election meeting in Betul in Madhya Pradesh, the prime minister mocked Wayanad Lok Sabha MP and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi by calling him “murkhon ke sardaar” (king of fools), without actually naming him. Gehlot's response: "The utterances of the prime minister’s post hold dignity. A man who values dignity should not say things like this."
In yet another instance, PM Modi used one of his public speeches to claim that the Congress in Rajasthan was sympathetic to "terrorists". Gehlot lost no time in answering back, urging the prime minister not to "vitiate the atmosphere and make issues out of non-issues by provoking people".
Modi's remarks were made at an election rally in Udaipur on Thursday, when he said the Congress government was using the policy of appeasement and playing vote bank politics to help terrorists, referring to the June 2022 murder of tailor Kanhaiya Lal by two apparent Islamic fundamentalists in Udaipur.
Gehlot answered the accusation by saying there are "many mysteries" to the lynching, and said the BJP was raking up the issue to whip up tension before the 25 November polls.
The 'mysteries' Gehlot is alluding to could be explained by his remarks at a meeting of Congress leaders and workers on 12 November, where he expressly claimed that those behind the Udaipur tailor's murder were "BJP people" who had been freed from police detention days before the incident "under pressure from the party".
Elsewhere, Gehlot said, "The prime minister believes in dividing society. He has successfully done it in Uttar Pradesh. I would make a humble request to the prime minister not to create this kind of environment in the country."
In April this year, during the launch of a Vande Bharat train, PM Modi publicly heaped praises on Gehlot, calling him a senior leader and dear friend. But the prime minister slipped in a sting at the end, saying Gehlot had taken the time to attend the function despite facing a political crisis.
The allusion was obviously to the day-long fast in Jaipur by Congress leader Sachin Pilot — who has had his differences with Gehlot over the years — as the launch ceremony was taking place.
In November 2022 in Banswara, Modi and Gehlot again shared the dais, and Modi described Gehlot as the seniormost chief minister in the fraternity of chief ministers.
When media persons asked him about Modi's prais, Gehlot cheekily replied, “He only said I am one of the senior chief ministers. Don't read too much into this. I understand all these tricks. I too have been in politics for a long time."
On recent occasion, Gehlot has said that wherever PM Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah go, "their job is to mislead people". Speaking at an event in Jodhpur, Gehlot said the BJP uses elections to spread its religious ideologies. The BJP tried to do this in Karnataka over the Bajrangbali issue, but the people did not take it seriously and the Congress came to power.
Gehlot has also said people in Rajasthan are "overwhelmed" by the various welfare schemes introduced by the Congress government, and that the BJP and its leadership are frustrated that there is "no anti-incumbency factor" against the government despite the remarks by the prime minister.