There is no doubt that Rajasthan is a tough election for the BJP and chances of victory are slim, but the very fact that it has a fighting chance speaks volumes about the organisational capacity and acumen of the party leadership
Abhinav Prakash Singh
As Rajasthan draws closer to vote on Friday, December 7, the public opinion has shifted from an impending decisive defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a tough contest and unpredictable poll outcome.
The discontent against the sitting Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje due to her apparent distance from the populace has faded in the face of the social equations and recalibrated messaging of the BJP.
The BJP has decided to focus its main thrust on the developmental work and the administrative record upfront with the Uttar Pradesh style micro social-engineering in the background.
Despite the popular media narrative, the administrative record of the Raje government has been satisfactory with several popular schemes such as the Bhamashah Yojana.
In addition, there has been no major scams or riots. However, what had soured the public perception is the perceived aloofness of Raje and slow growth on the jobs front. The persistent problems in the agricultural sector is also a factor fuelling the anti-incumbency. Then there is the issue of caste dynamics which shapes the Rajasthan elections.
The political rivalry between different castes, especially the Rajputs and the Jats, and the Gujjars and the Meenas has been intractable. It was only during 2013-14 that they voted in the same direction towards the BJP, decades after the Bhairon Singh Shekhawat formed an alliance with the Chaudhary Devi Lal to take on the Congress.
In fact, the success of the BJP in recent years has depended on its ability to create what is known as the ‘United Spectrum of Hindu Votes’ underpinned by the smart social-engineering and pro-development appeal. The strategy yielded rich dividends for the BJP whose vote share in the last assembly elections was 46.05 percent against the 33.7 percent of the Congress. It will be a tough task for the Congress to close such a massive gap.
The BJP has been working hard to stitch a vote-bank of the non-dominant castes such as the Malis, Yadavs, Kumawats, Sindhis, Rebaris, Kalals, Dhakar, Meena, Dangi and others. The new BJP state president also belongs to this spectrum of castes. The BJP hopes to counterbalance the loss of the upper-caste votes due to the anti-SC/ST Act protests and loss of the Jat-Gujjar votes due to pro-reservation movement.
On the other side, the Congress is pinning all its hope on anti-incumbency and upper-caste unrest even though its on the face messaging is about jobs for youth and fair deal to the farmers. While it found some initial traction, it has failed to sustain an effective campaign. It has no coherent vision to articulate to rival Hindutva and has not laid out a roadmap for job creation and address issues farmers are facing.
In addition to this, the Congress has hesitated from declaring Sachin Pilot as its chief ministerial face due to the fears of antagonising non-Gujjar dominant castes. This has led to the formation of rival camps within the party centred on Pilot and former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. It is doubtful that a divided camp can take on the well-oiled election machinery of Amit Shah.
The only vote-bank the Congress can rely on is the Muslim votes. There is no visible break in the trend of a pro-BJP tilt among the Dalits despite the narrative build-up of disenchantment among the Dalits. The BJP has successfully tried to retain the tribal votes, especially the Meenas by co-opting the community leaders. In addition, the BJP has its organisational strength going for it but it seems that now the RSS has also decided to put its weight behind the Raje government. It came after the overzealous targeting of the RSS by the Congress in its election campaign.
On the top of this is the immense popularity and credibility of Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose rallies are known to swing significant votes. He has mostly focused on the welfare schemes of the state and the Centre, such as housing, toilet construction, health insurance, gas connections, which are among the most visible and popular schemes.
The Rajasthan election will also test the success of the BJP in cultivating a new constituency among the poor, which has historically voted for the Congress.
There is no doubt that Rajasthan is a tough election for the BJP and chances of victory are slim, but the very fact that it has a fighting chance speaks volumes about the organisational capacity and acumen of the party leadership.
This is what the Congress lacks and is seen as struggling in what should have been a cakewalk in a state known for alternating between the two parties. It also shows the limit of anti-incumbency under the Modi-led BJP. Even if the BJP loses Rajasthan by a small margin, it will still be an indicator of a pro-incumbency vote in 2019.
(Abhinav Prakash Singh is assistant professor, Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi, Delhi. Views are personal)For more Opinion pieces, click here.
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