Though there are reports of the BJP narrowing the gap with the Congress in the last leg, it is unlikely to make much of a difference to the final tally
As Rajasthan goes to polls on December 7, the Congress is looking to win its first election in a direct contest with the BJP in five years. All indicators and pre-poll surveys in the run-up to the election have backed the grand old party to storm back to power in India’s largest state. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government headed by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindhia is unpopular on the ground and that seems to be the biggest factor going for the Congress.
Earlier this year, the bypoll results in the traditionally bipolar state indicate this change of mood as the Congress won with massive margins in Alwar and Ajmer. Although the BJP has tried to make amends and activate its cadre in the interim, there has been no palpable change in public mood.
Massive unemployment (almost twice the national average) and farm and rural distress are driving this call for change in this predominantly (75%) rural state. Only less than a fortnight ago, four youths committed suicide in Alwar, allegedly frustrated with the lack of employment.
Seat allotment delay
With Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Sachin Pilot rebuilding the organisation from scratch in the five years following their 2013 rout, the Congress is back in pole position. There has been some rancour following distribution of tickets with 28 Congress rebels contesting against official candidates but with almost as many BJP rebels in the fray, this factor evens out to some extent. Ticket distribution was in focus for the delay in announcing candidates as well as the confusion that prevailed in a few seats.
Take, for instance, the Bikaner West and East seats: In the first list released on November 15, the Congress named Yashpal Gehlot in Bikaner West and Kanhaiya Lal Jhanwar in Bikaner East. In the second list, Gehlot was shifted to Bikaner East and former PCC chief BD Kalla was brought back in Bikaner West — a seat he lost the elections in 2008 and 2013. Later, in yet another twist, Gehlot was dropped from Bikaner East and Jhanwar was brought back. This happened after Leader of Opposition Rameshwar Dudi threatened to withdraw his candidature from the adjoining Nokha constituency if Jhanwar wasn’t brought back. Curiously, Jhanwar defeated Dudi in 2008 contesting as an Independent in Nokha.
Despite all this confusion, the Congress is poised to win on account of the resentment prevailing against the Raje government. In fact, the confidence of the Congress to win handsomely can be gauged from the fact that they have left five seats for smaller allies despite the fact that these parties do not have a base in Rajasthan. Two seats each are contested by Sharad Yadav’s Loktantrik Janata Dal and the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal and one by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
There are various caste factors at play as well. The Rajputs have turned against the BJP and the Jats, who voted predominantly for the BJP in 2013, and are expected to back the Congress this time. In fact, with Sachin Pilot as the face of the Congress’ campaign, even the Gujjars are likely to vote en masse for the Congress.
As for the other alternatives, the Hanuman Beniwal-led Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) and the Ghanshyam Tiwari-led Bharat Vahini Party (BVP) are contesting in 121 seats in an alliance. The Left-anchored six-party Loktantrik Morcha is contesting in more than 150 seats with the Janata Dal (Secular) and Samajwadi Party among its constituents. Experts are of the view that this ‘Third Front’ of sorts is likely to come a cropper beyond Sikar and other areas that saw farmer agitation and acute farm distress. Beniwal is popular among the younger Jats in his constituency of Nagaur and adjoining areas but his party is not expected to make much of an impact beyond the Shekhawati belt. The other parties in the fray include the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which have fielded candidates in 197 and 187 seats respectively.
Gehlot or Pilot for Congress?
There have been many speculations about who would succeed Raje as chief minister if the Congress were to win, as expected. Although Ashok Gehlot has twice been chief minister and is relatively young at 67, Pilot would be the front-runner for his efforts at staying put in Rajasthan for five years and fortifying the organisation to take on the well-oiled machinery of the BJP. The revolving-door trend in Rajasthan might also prompt the party to go in for a younger face.
Though there are reports of the BJP narrowing the gap in the last leg, it is unlikely to make much of a difference to the final tally. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was pitched in to the campaign at a late stage to try and rake up Hindutva sentiments, but that strategy had failed in the bypolls in Alwar which saw a swing of 23% in favour of the Congress. Moreover, people who have made up their minds would seldom reconsider their choices at this late stage on account of rabble-rousing speeches.
Come December 11, BJP spokespersons might pin the blame on Raje in the event of a debacle but a loss in Rajasthan would certainly diminish the aura of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ‘Chanakya’ image of BJP President Amit Shah going into the next general election.
(Anand Kochukudy is a Delhi-based academic and political commentator. Views are personal)For more Opinion pieces, click here.
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