Will Rajasthan see a break in the 20-year trend of alternating between the BJP and the Congress governments every consecutive term, as the state goes to polls on 7 December?
With anti-incumbency, communal and caste disharmony, agrarian crisis and political infighting looming large over the Vasundhara Raje government, Rajasthan is the best bet for the Congress among the five states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram – that go into elections starting mid-November.
Even as the five state elections are being seen as a litmus test for the Modi-led NDA government before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress is confident to clean sweep the state polls in Rajasthan, which was one of the strongest bastions of the BJP that won 163 out of 200 seats in 2013.
While both the parties are putting their best foot forward, here’s a look at the key players, the pertinent issues and the crucial factors that dominate the 15th Assembly elections in the state.
How Did Rajasthan Vote in the Recent Past?
With a population of 6.86 crores, according to the 2011 census, Rajasthan holds 200 Assembly constituencies and 25 Lok Sabha seats. The state is primarily divided into nine regions – Ajmer State, Hadoti, Dhundhar, Gorwar, Shekhawati, Mewar, Marwar, Vagad and Mewat.
Rajasthan has alternated between the BJP and Congress governments since the 1998 Assembly elections. The saffron party, in 2013, had secured a historic mandate with Vasundhara Raja as the CM face, winning more than 80 percent of the 200 constituencies and pocketing more than 46 percent of the vote share, which showed a surge of nearly 11 percent in its performance since the 2008 election.
The BJP’s exceptional performance in Assembly elections was further consolidated in the Lok Sabha elections held in April-May 2014 where the party managed to bag all the 25 constituencies, amassing support of more than 55 percent of the electorate.
Worth noting, the only other occasion when a party won all 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan was in 1984 by the Congress who could achieve the target in the polls held closely after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
The Congress, which is the principle rival party in the state, suffered humiliating defeat in both the elections.
Rajasthan, so far, has seen a bi-polar political contest between the BJP and the Congress.
However, the anti-incumbency wave against Vasundhara Raje seems to have hit Rajasthan strong since the Congress, which was reduced to 21 seats in 2013, managed to win 6 by-polls held since then. The latter trounced the BJP 3-0 in the recently held bypolls in Alwar, Ajmer and Mandalgarh.
What Are The Key Factors?
Rajasthan has always been caught in a tiff between different caste groups exercising their dominance in the region. The problem has only been aggravated by political parties who field candidates based on their caste-identities and importance to issues beneficial to caste groups whom they want to woo for the upcoming elections.
The BJP has traditionally done exceedingly well among upper castes like Brahmins, Rajputs and the trading communities.
For example, when the BJP leadership and the RSS wanted Jodhpur MP and union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, a Rajput as the state BJP chief, current Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje opposed the appointment saying his appointment will further alienate the Jat community who constitute a larger share of the population than the Rajputs.
Raje herself had played the caste card to come to power in 2013 elections by calling herself the daughter-in-law of Jats, daughter of Rajputs and samdhan of Gujjar.
The Gujjars have traditionally been BJP voters as opposed to their arch rivals, the Meenas who supported the Congress. However, the pastoral community had edged toward the Congress after an Indian Air Force pilot from their community, Rajesh Pilot, had come to power from Bharatpur in 1980. The Gujjars now place their hope on his son, Sachin Pilot, to become the chief minister of the state. The Gujjars are also upset with the BJP for failing to give reservation to the community for government jobs and educational institutions. Meanwhile, the BJP is now banking on the support their rivals, Meenas and re-inducted the community’s tallest leader, Kirodi Lal Meena, a former MP who left the party after differences with Raje in 2008.
There are at least 14 constituencies with significant percentage of Muslim voters which could tilt the electoral balance. The Muslim community’s representation in the present Assembly is at a low, with only two MLAs elected on BJP ticket in the 2013 polls.
There were also reports of the Congress fielding fewer Muslim candidates in the upcoming elections. This could weaken the party’s traditional support base who are already upset with it for not displaying public support to Muslims during incidents of communal disharmony in the state.
On the other hand, incidents of mob lynching in the name of ‘gau raksha’ and alleged ‘love jihad’ have been on the rise since the last five years which have further alienated the Muslims from the BJP. Adding to the woes, the Raje government, in August, had decided to rename Muslim-sounding villages to Hindu ones.
Both the BJP and the Congress are trying to woo the farmers who constitute a formidable portion of the electorates in the state. With the farmers already angry with the saffron party for failing to fulfil its promise of loan waiver leading to farmer suicides, it will be extremely difficult for the Congress to tackle the crisis if it comes back to power in the state.
Voices of dissent are being heard from both parties and sidelined party leaders are quick to cross over to get a chance to contest.
The ruling BJP alone has fielded seven defectors, including six from the Congress and one from the BSP. Turncoats, who managed to get Congress tickets just after a few hours or days after leaving the BJP, include Harish Meena, Habib-ir-Rehman, Manvendra Singh and Zamindara Party legislator Sona Devi Bawri.
To fight the BJP and the Congress, smaller parties in the state such as JD(S), CPI, CPM, CPI (ML), Samajwadi Party (SP), MCPI(U) and Rashtriya Lok Dal have come together to form the United Democratic Front. Political analysts believe that even if the third front cannot win seats, it has the potential to influence the results in at least 25 seats.
Who Are The Key Players?
As the election is seen as a do or die situation for the incumbent Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, let’s weigh in on the pros and cons for each of the key players in the race to power.
VASUNDHARA RAJE ( BJP)
Raje will fight the election from Jhalrapatan constituency which has thrown her back to power thrice – 2003, 2008 and 2013.
However, as Raje battles against anti-incumbency and disgruntled party workers who have raised concerns of her inaccessibility, a loss in the upcoming state elections is seen as an end of road for the 67 year-old scion of the royal family. She is also known for having a sour relationship with the party’s central leadership. With one of the slogans doing the rounds in the state – ‘Modi tujhse bair nahi, Vasundhara teri khair nahi’ (We have no malice towards you, Modi, but won’t spare Vasundhara) – it will be interesting to see what future holds for Raje.
ASHOK GEHLOT (CONGRESS)
Although the Congress is yet to take a call on its CM face, two-time chief minister Ashok Gehlot, could well be the party’s CM candidate in the upcoming assembly elections as well. The MLA from Sadarpura assembly constituency is the current general secretary of All India Congress Committee and enjoys a loyal voter base in the state. Gehlot, who defeated BJP candidate Shambhu Singh Khetasar by 18,478 votes in 2013 in his constituency, is known for his ability to swing the votes from the Mali community, who play a crucial role in the elections.
SACHIN PILOT (CONGRESS)
President of Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee and son of prominent state Congress leader Rajesh Pilot, Sachin Pilot has emerged as the most promising choice for the party’s CM face. He is not only more popular with people at the grassroots but is also credited for steering the Congress to three major by-poll victories in February this year. Since the 2013 elections, the party has won 25 assembly segments in by-polls under his leadership.
THIRD FRONT: HANUMAN BENIWAL (RLP) + GHANSHYAM TIWARI (BVP)
In an election being defined by anti-incumbency, disgruntled BJP leaders – Hanuman Beniwal and Ghanshyam Tiwari – who don’t see a future for themselves in the saffron party have extended support to each other in launching new parties, Rashtriya Loktantra Party (RLP) and Bharat Vahini Party respectively.
Political observers do not believe that the momentum of popularity for the two new names will serve as an alternative to the two established parties in the state, at least in this election. However, they could swing some crucial votes which could hinder the party pacing towards the majority mark.
What Are The Key Issues?
For the first time in Rajasthan, farmers killed themselves over debt and decline in the prices of their produce in the local markets. In the Hadoti region of the state, fall in garlic prices led to five farmers taking their lives this year alone. However, the state government refused to acknowledge that the reason behind their deaths was the severe debt-crisis.
Several regions of Rajasthan witnessed protests by farmers demanding the promised loan waiver. The major agitation in Sikar last September led to the state government take cognisance of the situation and announce a farm loan waiver of up to Rs 50,000 for small and marginal farmers, for loans taken from cooperative banks. However, the farmers of the state are not satisfied with the government measure and their votes could swing the elections against the BJP.
Vasundhara Raje had come to power in 2013 promising 1.5 million jobs. She coined the mantra “Lathi nahi, naukriya doongi” when the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government were facing backlash from the youth who were seeking government jobs. Five years down the line, the youth of the state feel cheated and claim that Raje has not been able to live upto her words. Upen Yadav, 30, state president of the Rajasthan Berozgar Ekikrat Mahasangh (RBEM) told Hindustan Times, although the BJP announced 157, 804 jobs in different department in four years of its rule, appointments had been made to only 41,800 while the remaining stay stuck in courts or at the recruitment phase.
SOCIAL SECTOR SCHEMES
The BJP government has also been facing flak for cutting back on social security schemes like old-age pensions, food security and free medicines. This election will also be a test for Raje’s women empowerment programmes like the Bhamashah Yojana that provided free medical care to the poor.
What Do The Opinion Poll Numbers Say?
OPINION POLL NUMBERS
The Congress is likely to unseat the BJP from power in Rajasthan, three opinion polls have predicted in what could be a continuation of the state’s tradition of over two decades of voting out the ruling party.
The ABP News C-Voter opinion poll predicts a massive win for the Congress in the Rajasthan Assembly election, with the party getting 142 of the 200 seats, while the BJP is reduced to just 56 seats. The 'Others', meanwhile, are predicted to get two seats.
The C-fore opinion polls have given the Congress 124-138 seats in the 200-member Rajasthan Assembly, with its state president Sachin Pilot leading Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje as the most preferred candidate for the top post.
The ABP-CSDS survey has also given a majority to Congress in Rajasthan.
How Are Cong & BJP Campaigning?
From holding Jan Samvads to embarking on the Gaurav Yatra showcasing the work done by the party, Raje has made every attempt at healing her image after the three bypoll losses in the beginning of the year. Despite rifts between Vasundhara Raje and the central leadership, one cannot ignore the Modi-Shah factor that could work in the BJP’s favour. The duo are expected to hold several rallies and public shows to encourage booth level workers and try to woo the voters, ahead of the 7 December poll.
Amid reports of infighting, the central leadership had directed party workers to stay united and launched the outreach programme aimed at increasing booth-level management and helped workers interact with people at the ground level.
The Congress reached out to people to fund its political campaign in Rajasthan by contributing money through the website of the Indian National Congress. Congress president Rahul Gandhi will also be visiting the state multiple times before the polls.
Apart from on-ground campaigning, both the parties have set up socail media war rooms to take on each other. The BJP's Rajasthan social media cell in-charge Hirendra Kaushik told Outlook magazine, that the BJP has deployed one IT cell worker each at 51,000 booths, and 10-member IT teams have been formed at the division level to reach out to people through WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The Congress too has worked on improving its social media footing after being inactive in the last Assembly polls.
Expert Speak: From The Quint
1. Raje’s ‘Betrayal of Rajputs’ Spells Win for Jaswant Singh Family
Manvendra Singh’s recent switch to the Congress marks the climax to a long-running cold war within the Rajasthan BJP. The marquee clash of Rajasthan politics – with Vasundhara Raje on one side and the Jaswant Singh family on the other – seems more like a medieval, feudal battle than a modern political tussle.
Read the full article here.
2. A Dent in Raj, MP & Chhattisgarh Polls Can Sink BJP’s Ship in 2019
Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have been BJP strongholds for years. While the BJP got an unprecedented mandate in the last Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Rajasthan, we will get to know the mood of the people in these states on 11 December.
But all surveys indicate that it is going to be an uphill task for the BJP to retain its absolute dominance in the three states. What impact will it have on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
Watch the full video here.
3. Why Congress’s Crowdfunding Initiative in Rajasthan Looks Doomed
Besides the lack of merit in its present appeal, the credibility of its challenge in Rajasthan, and Rahul Gandhi’s persistent and punchy attacks against crony capitalism, question marks linger around the Congress’s motives behind seeking crowdfunding and its long-term commitment to resetting its funding portfolio.
Read the full analysis here.
4. Rajasthan Assembly Polls: Will Defiant Raje Be Able to Hold Fort?
Split wide open – this explains the state of internal politics in the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and Congress in Rajasthan. Whosoever is able to manage this divide better has brighter chances of emerging victorious on 11 December 2018.
Read the full article here.
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