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Where is Rahul? Not in Rajasthan yet, as campaign enters last 15 days | Political Pulse News

A MONTH after the declaration of election dates in Rajasthan, and with just about a fortnight to go for voting on November 25, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is yet to hold a rally in the state.

After Mallikarjun Kharge and Sonia Gandhi, Rahul is third on the Congress list of star campaigners for Rajasthan.

While party leaders say that, along with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Kharge, Rahul will focus on Rajasthan post-Diwali and hold multiple rallies here, his absence is leading to some chatter.

Since the election dates were announced on October 9, Kharge has held two rallies — in Baran on October 16, linked to the party’s critical Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project (ERCP) campaign, and another one in Jodhpur on November 6, the day Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot filed his nomination.

Priyanka has also held two rallies since then, in Dausa on October 20 and in Jhunjhunu on October 25.

Festive offer

However, Rahul’s last engagement in Rajasthan was a ‘karyakarta sammelan (party workers’ meeting)’ in Jaipur on September 23, where Kharge was also present. And before that, it was a rally at Mangarh Dham on August 9.

The Congress’s state in-charge, Sukjinder Singh Randhawa, said that as voting in other states was being held before Rajasthan, Rahul was holding programmes in those states. But while Mizoram and Chhattisgarh (Phase One) voted on November 7, and the voting for Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (Phase Two) will take place on November 17, Telangana votes five days after Rajasthan, on November 30, and Rahul has held programmes in the southern state.

Party insiders speculate that the Congress sees a better chance of winning in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and hence the focus may be more on those two states. Rahul has himself contributed to this impression, saying at an event in Delhi in September: “Right now, we are probably winning in Telangana, we are certainly winning Madhya Pradesh, we are certainly winning Chhattisgarh. Rajasthan, we are very close, and we think we will be able to win.”

Congress leaders admit that this vote of low confidence in Rajasthan victory was not what they needed. While the state has voted out the incumbent in election after election for 30 years now, the Congress started out with high hopes of reversing this trend given the divisions within the BJP ranks.

However, in time for the elections, the BJP is seen to have got its act together.

Over the last few weeks, the Gandhi face who has been visible on the ground, lending her shoulder and wattage to the Congress campaign, is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Seen as close to Sachin Pilot, the former Congress deputy chief minister, Priyanka has made it a point to talk about his contributions to the party at these appearances.

Of her three rallies since September, two have been on Pilot’s turf. During Pilot’s 2020 rebellion too, the first image to signal the end of the internal crisis had Priyanka with Pilot and the other rebels.

However, despite all this support and his own efforts, Pilot is largely in the background in this election, with rival Gehlot ensuring that the Congress campaign was all about him. Gehlot even held a press conference at the Delhi headquarters where he indicated that he was in no hurry to make way as CM should the Congress win.

Notably, Pilot was missing from the launch of the party’s ERCP campaign by Kharge in Baran (the Congress president has been doing the heavy lifting for Gehlot in the campaign). This is despite the fact that the ERCP covers large swathes of the Gujjar belt; Pilot is a Gujjar leader. The official reason was that Pilot had to give a Territorial Army exam.

According to some sources, Rahul’s absence has at least partly to do with this unending Gehlot-Pilot tussle. The Rahul camp is yet to reconcile with how Gehlot openly defied the high command last year to stay on as CM and keep out Pilot. Only one of the three leaders and Gehlot loyalists served a notice by the party over the incident got a ticket, Shanti Dhariwal. While Cabinet minister Mahesh Joshi was dropped, Dhariwal slipped in, but in the last list.

However, as far as the candidate list goes, Gehlot largely had his way, ensuring 89 sitting party MLAs were repeated, despite recommendations that they be changed to beat anti-incumbency.

Moreover, the party’s Rajasthan campaign is not going exactly as per plan. The ERCP Yatra failed to generate a satisfying response, and the party suspended its ‘Congress Guarantee Yatra’ a day after it was launched. While this was reportedly also due to unflattering feedback, party leaders officially say the yatra will resume after Diwali. And that Rahul and other senior leaders will be present for it to give a momentum closer to voting.

Randhawa said all the top three, Kharge, Priyanka, and Rahul, will campaign in the state between 14 and 23.

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However, a party leader worried that the impression that the Congress considers Rajasthan a lost cause is gaining ground. “This might explain the lack of enthusiasm on Rahul’s part.”

BJP spokesperson Laxmikant Bhardwaj said, “How will Rahul Gandhi face the people of Rajasthan? The promises he made in Rajasthan ahead of the last elections, on waiving farm loans, not increasing electricity bills, buying new buses, etc… not a single one of those promises has been fulfilled. So probably the Congress itself doesn’t want him to come to Rajasthan as he was the party’s face then.”

He added: “And it doesn’t matter whether Rahul Gandhi comes to Rajasthan or not, as there is nothing left for the Congress here. They won’t get enough seats to elect even a Leader of the Opposition.”

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