Rajasthan elections: Congress on the upswing

Two States: The tide is in Congress’ favour in Rajasthan, Telangana. Can it ride the wave?

In Rajasthan, the election posters and hoardings of the BJP and Congress tell a story: the BJP posters have only two faces, those of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Prime Minister Narendra Modi; the Congress posters have four faces: party general secretaries Ashok Gehlot and Avinash Pandey, state party chief Sachin Pilot and leader of the opposition in the assembly Rameshwar Dudi. Gehlot and Pilot are front-runners for the chief minister’s job if Congress wins, but Pandey and Dudi are also mentioned in some quarters.

 Therein lies the story: most poll surveys predict a Congress win. In a party that even in the worst of times always has had more than one chief ministerial aspirant, four may not be too many in what seem to be their ‘achche din’. The BJP, on the other hand, gives off the feeling of being saddled with Raje, and the attendant anti-incumbency factor. The chief minister is increasingly unpopular, and the anger is coming from every direction – distressed farmers, jobless youth, and a general feeling across the state that Raje has been an ‘inaccessible CM’.       
With elections a week away, political experts believe that the wind in the desert state is blowing in the Congress’ direction. Says senior journalist and political analyst Sandipan Sharma, “On the ground, there is an anti-Raje wave. The youth and farmers are unhappy with her. The party’s central leadership is aware of this. That’s why Modi does not even mention her in most public gatherings. Congress will win with a comfortable majority”.



 The Congress, however, has its own share of problems, not the least of which is the much-rumoured infighting between the two ‘camps’ – the Gehlot and Pilot camps – over who should be chief minister if the party wins.

Gehlot, a former CM, has thrown his hat in the ring for another term, and there are other ambitious party veterans, too, putting Pilot in an uneasy situation. Pilot enjoys the support of party chief Rahul Gandhi, but he cannot ignore the seniors around him. Indeed, if one were to go by a statement that Gehlot himself made, there is an even longer list of CM probables than previously thought – including Rameshwar Dudi, Girija Vyas and the party’s prize catch from the BJP, Jaswant Singh’s son Manvendra.

Infighting

And then, there’s the old Congress bug: rifts between several groups that arise as soon as the tickets are announced, dragging the party’s confidence level down. “Congress has too many faces and people do not know who will be CM if it wins. People are unhappy with the current government, but in Congress, leaders are fighting and trying to pull down one another”, a veteran Congress leader told DH.

The BJP, on the other hand, is going to town with a simple catchphrase for the December 7 polls: “Bhajapa Phir se”. Never mind that the anger against its government indicates that the slogan is unlikely to become reality, barring some miracle in the party’s favour.  

“Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is considered inaccessible even by her close associates. The Congress has relentlessly highlighted this issue in its election campaign, asking people if they would vote for the person who has become a symbol of arrogance. This is the major drawback we are facing,” a senior BJP leader told DH

A wake-up call for Raje came as early as March this year. A protest at Prime Minister Modi’s rally in Jhunjhunu had the slogan: “Modi tujhse bair nahin, Vasundhara teri khair nahin” (Modi, we have nothing against you, Vasundhara, beware of us). She did make a last effort to win back the people, with a 40-day ‘Gaurav Yatra’ across the state to connect with voters. Even that seemed to backfire. 

Aware of this resentment towards Raje, the BJP central leadership prefers not to talk about her at public rallies. In the last six rallies Modi has addressed in Rajasthan, Raje was present at the maiden rally, but since then Modi has chosen to dissociate himself from her. Pilot picks up on this: “For five years, Rajasthan has had a government that is insensitive, non-responsive and dictatorial. Which is why, even Modi is not taking her along for his rallies.”

Prakash Javadekar, the Rajasthan BJP election in-charge, has lately tried to fix the Raje problem, which he seems to think was one of lack of communication. But seeing that it hasn’t helped and the election is slipping out of its hands, the BJP has unleashed its ‘Hindutva’foil to Modi’s ‘vikas’ face, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for a 21-rally tour de force just ahead of elections in a desperate attempt to polarise Hindu votes. Except, in the very first rally, Adityanath puts his feet squarely in his mouth with his ‘Hanuman was Dalit’ remark.

But the BJP hasn’t given up yet. Showing that it still has tricks up its sleeve, the party has fielded Yunus Khan, its only Muslim candidate in Rasjasthan, against Sachin Pilot in Tonk, where a majority of voters are Muslim.

Pilot sees through both the Adityanath and Yunus Khan moves. “Bringing up matters of religion at the last minute to deflect attention from the issues of the election is an ‘old, tried and tested trick’ of the BJP, but it will not work now”, he says. The question is, can he ensure that it does not work on December 7?

Issues

There are four key issues that each party must convince voters that it has the right solution to this assembly election: rising unemployment, especially among the youth, at 7.7%; the agrarian crisis in Rajasthan, as in many other states, with farmers demanding implementation of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee; caste-based reservations, with the Gujjars persisting with their demand for a 5% quota within the OBC reservation framework; and in rural Rajasthan, it is the difficulty in getting clean drinking water. 

Both Congress and BJP have tried to address the unemployment and farmer issues in their manifestos, but when it comes to assuring reservation for the Gujjars, both have played smart.

The 2018 assembly polls, apart from being the semi-finals before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, will also decide Raje’s future in Rajasthan and in the BJP. If she wins, she will make history by winning a second consecutive turn, which has not happened in Rajasthan in 25 years. If she loses, that could well be the end of the road for her politically.

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Rajasthan elections: Congress on the upswing

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