Rajasthan: tough battle in the offing between Cong, BJP

Rajasthan: tough battle in the offing between Cong, BJP

The Congress recently won the assembly polls in Rajasthan, but its results may or may not reflect on the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. With general elections a few weeks away, both Congress and BJP are leaving no stone unturned in the state, which sends 25 MPs to the Lok Sabha.  

Both parties have their pluses that could translate into a winning edge for them, but only if they address their weaknesses and unfulfilled promises. Congress’ win in the Assembly elections doesn’t indicate that there is an anti-BJP wave in the state. The BJP suffered only a marginal decline in vote share between the 2013 and 2018 Assembly polls. The resentment of voters in Rajasthan was directed towards former chief minister Vasundhara Raje, which is why the BJP has sidelined her, keeping the LS polls in mind.

Congress, which was expected to sweep the assembly elections, given the intense resentment against the Raje government, barely touched the halfway mark, winning 100 seats in the 200-member assembly while the BJP was reduced to 73 seats from its huge 2013 tally of 163 seats.

The Congress government led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot has moved quickly to fulfil its promises. Gehlot has announced measures such as reconstitution of the state Farmers’ Commission, pension for small and marginal farmers, and a deadline for installing one lakh electricity connections. Moreover, the unemployment pension of Rs 3,500 per month has been ratified by the state Assembly. The government also got the assembly to pass a resolution urging the Centre to pass the 33% reservation for women in Parliament and state assemblies and has promised a decision soon on the 10% reservation in jobs and education for the economically weaker sections.

However, the party needs to address infighting. Differences between Gehlot and Pilot became evident in the poor selection of candidates for the assembly polls, the price of which was the loss of at least nine seats to rebel candidates from the party. Pilot, who is also state party chief under whose leadership the party rose from 21 seats in 2013 to 100 now, said, “We are hopeful people of Rajasthan will once again vote for Congress in the Lok Sabha polls because they have already seen the BJP’s non-performance in the state and at the Centre”. Interestingly, Congress started its Lok Sabha preparations with Rahul Gandhi’s rally in Ajmer on February 14, where he addressed thousands of Seva Dal workers.

The BJP may have lost the assembly elections under Raje’s leadership, but is once again trying hard to repeat the magic of 2014 when it grabbed all 25 LS seats. It looks like the party has realised that its own infighting — between the state and central leadership — is hurting it and is trying to fix it. Party chief Amit Shah, who was in Jaipur to launch its preparations for Lok Sabha elections recently, shared political space with Raje for the first time since the assembly poll defeat, even praising her for the “unparalleled work” done during her regime. Going into the statistics of the BJP’s defeat in the assembly polls, Shah said that the difference in vote share was a mere 0.5% and thus it was not a defeat.

Exhorting party workers to actively participate in its activities and maintain the connect with voters, Shah did not forget to mention the names of Sundar Singh Bhandari, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and LK Advani who, he said, had built the foundation of the party in the state. However, the strained relations between Shah and Raje is no secret, especially after she was given the role of party national vice president and was assigned campaign duties in states other than Rajasthan.

A number of issues — communal lynchings, farmers’ anger, unrest over restrictions on cattle transport, rampant unemployment — have however left the voters disenchanted with the saffron party. Moreover, the Rajput community, who were the BJP’s traditional vote bank, were angry with the party over the encounter killing of gangster Anandpal Singh and over party’s handling of the issue over the film Padmaavat. 

Having lost power in the state, the BJP faces an uphill task if it aspires to do as good as in the 2014 LS polls. The indications aren’t good. In the Lok Sabha by-elections held in January 2018, it lost both Alwar and Ajmer seats to Congress. For the Lok Sabha elections, the party appointed conveners, co-conveners and in-charge for all 25 seats in January. This month, senior party leaders, including Union ministers Prakash Javadekar, also the election in-charge for Rajasthan, and Arjun Ram Meghwal visited their assigned Lok Sabha seats.

In the Assembly elections, Congress got 100 seats while the BJP got 73. The former, after falling short of majority by a whisker, got support from nine independent MLAs, 6 BSP MLAs, 1 RLD and 2 Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) to form the government. The
vote share of both Congress and BJP was about 39%, but that represented a fall for BJP
from the 46.79% votes it had won in 2013 and a rise for Congress from its 34.27%.

Caste card

Both Congress and BJP are playing caste politics. Congress, which garnered support from the Gujjar community by giving them 5% reservation, is eyeing at the six Lok Sabha seats dominated by Gujjar voters. Similarly, the BJP is trying to woo back the Rajputs, who were upset with the state leadership.

Going by the electoral history in the desert state, the Lok Sabha polls in the state have always gone in favour of the ruling party in the state. However, the BJP, which was defeated by a marginal drop in vote share, will do everything to leverage the 23 LS seats that it holds at present to do a 2014 encore.