Close contest in Raj as Congress regains lost ground

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Jaipur, Nov 26: Congress is banking on populist schemes of the Ashok Gehlot government to beat the odds and romp home while opposition BJP expects that the state's lack of development and overall anti-incumbency mood will hand it over the reins of power.

If Gehlot draws applause in rallies as he speaks of these schemes and asks people to do "justice" to him, BJP chief ministerial candidate Vasundhara Raje touches a chord with the crowd by accusing the CM of "sleeping" after being elected and now distributing sops for votes.

A tour across vast expanses of the desert state reveals that the ruling party has managed to stem the reported slide in its fortunes, more in rural regions, on the back of its welfare measures, including pension for senior citizens, free health check-up and medicines for all. "The only anti-incumbency we are fighting is against our government in Delhi.

There is no anti-incumbency against us," several Congress leaders told PTI. If satta bazaar, illegal but popular in parts of the state, is any indication, it offers no solace to the two big parties with both said to be locked in a neck-and-neck battle and not predicted to get a clear majority.

The betting market had declared BJP a favourite to get majority in the 200-seat assembly until a few weeks back, but is now predicting a dead heat with Congress regaining much of the lost ground in the run-up to the December 1 polls. "My mother gets Rs 500 delivered at home every month. There is free health check up not only for her but even our animals.

The betting market had declared BJP a favourite to get majority.

I can't ignore it," Kuldip Godara, who works in Jaipur and whose mother stays at their rural home in Jodhpur, says when asked of his political preference. 

BJP leaders claim that Gehlot's populist schemes are too little and too late in the day, accusing him of doing nothing for the better part of his tenure.

"They slept for four years like Kumbhkaran (the mythological demon who would sleep for months). Now they are saying, please take pension. Take everything but give us votes. They have woken up because of elections. You need a government which works for you round-the-clock," BJP's chief ministerial candidate Vasundhara Raje tells audience in rallies.

However, in a tacit admission that people have embraced these schemes, BJP has promised its own sops while not touching the present doles if elected to power. Party leaders are also dwelling at length on the issue of price rise. BJP's mascot and prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has been travelling across the state, focusing more on the failures of the UPA government at the Centre.

Raje had earlier targeted the free medicine scheme, alleging that these medicines were "poisonous", prompting Congress to splash advertisements highlighting her allegations and giving party stalwarts like Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Gehlot an opportunity to hit back at BJP.

The state BJP had defended her claim, saying stocks of medicines were found past their expiry dates and even contaminated, but the party has now turned its attention to other issues.

Gehlot has managed to streamline the populist schemes of providing free healthcare, including diagnostic tests, in government hospitals and giving pension of Rs 500 to the elderly in the fag end of his tenure, offsetting the criticism against his government.

"Our schemes have touched the life of all sections of society. Everybody has benefited. Now, it is for you to do justice," he tells crowds in his meetings.

PTI

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