Both anecdotal evidence and survey data indicates that the Congress’ advantage in Rajasthan may not extend to the Lok Sabha elections due to the Modi factor.
On November 29, when I met Virendra Chaudhary, a voter in the Baytu constituency in Rajasthan’s Barmer district, he was on his way to Chohtan, which is about 95 kilometres away, near the Pakistan border. He was planning to build a house there and settle. “There are over 60 percent Muslims in our area. We don't feel safe there. In Chohtan, we Jats are more in number."
“Much better to live near Pakistan, than in Pakistan,” he joked.
On being asked why he dislikes Muslims, Chaudhary said, “They are backward and regressive. Why do they insist on slaughtering cows when they know we are against it?”
Speaking about the cases of Muslims being lynched in Rajasthan, he says, “These were unfortunate. But what choice did the people there have? When they see a cow being slaughtered, such an angry reaction is natural”.
His political views, however, was mixed. He had positive views of the Congress and former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, but did not share the same emotions about Vasundhara Raje.
However, Chaudhary dislikes Sachin Pilot. “He is scared. Why did he go to a Muslim-dominated seat like Tonk to get elected? Can’t he win elsewhere?” he asked.
In the Ladnun seat in Nagaur district, Jitendra Singh, a Rajput, has a similar opinion about Muslims. “We don't see eye-to-eye with Muslims. We have had many disputes with them,” he says. Also, his political views align with that of Chaudhary’s. He has one more reason to dislike Raje — “Her government got Anandpal Singh killed.”Anandpal was a Ravana Rajput gangster from Ladnun who became popular among Rajputs because of his tussle with Jat gangsters in the Shekhawati region. He was killed in an encounter last year.
Anandpal was a Ravana Rajput gangster from Ladnun who became popular among Rajputs because of his tussle with Jat gangsters in the Shekhawati region. He was killed in an encounter last year.
Pro-Hindutva but with Congress
Across Rajasthan, one comes across many voters who dislike Muslims, see themselves as pro-Hindutva but are choosing to vote for the Congress in these elections.
This trend was first seen earlier this year in the Congress’ massive 1.96 lakh vote victory over the BJP in the Lok Sabha by-election in Alwar, where most of the hate crimes against Muslims have taken place.
The Congress also won in Ajmer, where Sikhs were attacked by a mob in 2017. In the past few years, Sikhs have also been attacked in Alwar, Hanumangarh and Jaipur in the state. In two of the cases, the police is said to have taken part in the attacks.
Of course there are exceptions. In Pokaran, pro-Hindutva voters are firmly behind Pratap Puri Maharaj, whom many call ‘Rajasthan’s Yogi Adityanath’. He is contesting against Congress’ Saleh Mohammad, son of a local Pir Ghazi Fakir.
Anti-Hindu tag removed
Even though it is essentially a vote against Raje, especially because of the alienation of farmers and key caste groups in the state, the significance of the Congress’ popularity in Rajasthan cannot be ignored. It is the first time since 2014 that the Congress is in a position to defeat the BJP in a Hindu-majority, Hindi-speaking state on its own might.
Otherwise, the only decisive Congress victory has been in Sikh-majority Punjab in 2017 that too in an election in which its main rivals were the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party. The BJP was there only as a junior partner of the SAD.
The desire to shed the anti-Hindu tag could be seen in the Congress’ manifesto in Rajasthan. It has promised to set up a board for the development of grazing land for cows and said that it will upgrade Gaushalas in the state. It terms of education, it has promised to promote ‘Vedic values’ and Sanskrit language in schools.
In contrast, the party remained by and large silent on the hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs in the state. This seems to be a repeat of the Congress strategy in Gujarat elections last year and Madhya Pradesh last month. In both these states, Congress President Rahul Gandhi went on a temple-visiting spree and made no mention of communal issues in the campaign. However, in terms of ticket distribution, the Congress been more generous in Rajasthan — it has fielded 15 Muslim candidates, thrice of what it did in Gujarat and five times the number of Muslim candidates in Madhya Pradesh.
The Modi factor
However, both anecdotal evidence and survey data indicates that the party’s advantage in Rajasthan may not extend to the Lok Sabha elections due to the Modi factor. Chaudhary and Singh had positive views about the Congress in the state but when it came to national politics, they looked up to the BJP in Delhi. The Lokniti-CSDS survey indicates that many voters in Rajasthan are thinking on the same lines.
According to the survey, Modi is the most-liked leader in Rajasthan, with 52 percent having a positive opinion of him and Raje is among the least liked at 26 percent. However, his popularity isn't helping the BJP in the assembly elections. The survey said that only 14 percent of those who “somewhat like Modi” plan to vote for the BJP at the assembly level as opposed to 28 percent in Madhya Pradesh and 30 percent in Chhattisgarh. The C-Voter survey predicted that while the BJP will face a huge defeat in the assembly polls, it will win a majority of seats in Rajasthan in the Lok Sabha polls largely due to Modi’s popularity.
So to extrapolate that the results of the assembly election have a direct correlation to the 2019 general elections would be inaccurate. If the Congress has the upper hand, it is because of its shrewdness in removing the ‘anti-Hindu’ tag in a state which has been notorious for hate-crimes against Muslims and Sikhs.
Aditya Menon is a Delhi-based political journalist and commentator. Views are personal.For more Opinion pieces, click here.
Assembly Elections 2018: Read the latest news, views and analysis here