BJP mocks people’s welfare as ‘freebies’: Ashok Gehlot

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s election strategy is driven by his welfare programmes. He has followed an aggressive form of welfarism—pressing the government machinery into service for running “relief camps” to combat price rise, distributing free smart phones to women and heavily subsiding LPG cylinders.

In an e-mail interview Poornima Joshi, Gehlot answered questions on his unique brand of welfarism. Edited Excerpts:

Gehlot, when we were travelling in the State, we saw people identifying you with benefits they were getting such as cooking gas cylinder at ₹500, phones for women and free health facilities. What are these schemes and how are they personally related to you?

Let me elaborate. The ₹500 per cylinder initiative, for example, is a huge success. LPG cylinders are supplied by the Centre, and inflation management falls under their responsibility. Nonetheless, we provided subsidy to 72 lakh families to reduce their refill cost to just ₹500. As a result, the Centre had to lower cylinder price to ₹900. Now, other States are following our lead. In 2023, I increased the free health insurance coverage from ₹10 lakh to ₹25 lakh. No other State in the country offers such coverage. This is a part of our flagship Chiranjeevi scheme. I believe that the Right to Health supersedes economic disparities. The Indira Gandhi Smartphone Scheme is a leap into the future. With an allocation of ₹2,720 crore, 40 lakh women have already been empowered with smartphones, and the journey doesn’t stop here. We have set a goal to reach a total of 1.35 crore women. Since the very beginning, my agenda has been pro-poor and welfare oriented. It is being related to me because I firmly believe in the policies my government is implementing in the State.

I believe the government is organising something called Mehengai Relief Camp? Why do you feel the need to do it and what precisely does this entail?

The Congress party’s “Mehangai Rahat Camps” are now synonymous with the benefits we bring directly to the people. The Mehengai Rahat Camps are a testament to our welfare agenda as more than 1.8 crore lakh families registered for our schemes and 8.02 lakh Guarantee Cards have been issued. Now, we are promising seven more guarantees to the people of the State, based on which they will decide to vote for us once again.

Are you inspired by the PM’s ‘Labharthi’ vote bank?

I think it is the duty of a leader to view a ‘votebank’ as people, and to ensure their policies reach the least advantaged section of society. ‘Labharti’ or beneficiary is not an empty promise or not like one of BJP’s famous jumlas. In fact, the BJP government is infamous for calling welfare schemes “freebies”. There are testaments across the State of Rajasthan’s Labharatis as they have faith in the Congress and will vote for us in the upcoming polls. My idea of Labhartis supersedes religious, community and economic disparities, something that the BJP has not been able to catch on to.

What is this ‘Guarantee Card’ that the Congress is distributing during the campaign?

This Guarantee Card is a commitment by the Congress party and personally endorsed by me. We promised ten schemes using our Guarantee Cards during Mehengai Rahat Camps held in May, June and July. Through this initiative, ten schemes were promised and delivered in multiple phases before the Model Code of Conduct came into effect. We are now giving seven guarantees in the same way through our Guarantee Card which has a registration number and citizens can give a missed call to register themselves for the seven guarantees. Citizens who register themselves through the number will get priority in the welfare schemes. This Guarantee Card is a solemn promise to the voter by the Congress party that the seven guarantees will be delivered to the people as soon as the Congress party forms the government on December 3.

Are you creating an image distinct from the party, a personality cult through your distinct brand of welfarism?

This is not a distinct brand of welfarism. The Congress Party gave me the responsibility to run the State and we had the people’s mandate with us. It was my moral responsibility and obligation to work in the interest of the people and the welfare of the State. Rajasthan has now become a model welfare State and I am proud that we have been able to achieve that. There is no such endeavour to develop a personality cult. It is the Congress party led government and I being the head of the government have the responsibility to ensure our policies are implemented the way they are supposed to and the benefits of our schemes reach the people.

Would this be able to counter the tradition of voting out the incumbent government in Rajasthan? The BJP is already claiming victory.

​It is not true that no government has ever got a second consecutive term in Rajasthan. Congress won 5 consecutive elections from 1952 to 1972. Again Congress won in 1980 and 1985. The BJP also won two consecutive elections in 1990 and 1993. So there is no rule that a government cannot get reelected? You will find out on December 3.

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