By Kalyani Shankar
All eyes are on Rajasthan, as among the three BJP ruled states going for Assembly polls in November-December, Rajasthan seems to be more vulnerable than the other two – Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – for the BJP. The Congress is upbeat with the pre-poll surveys predicting a Congress win in this state, which has not returned the ruling party for two decades and more. In the last eight by-elections, the Congress, reduced to 21 seats in 2013, has been able to win 6 by-polls, including two Assembly seats and one parliamentary election, this year. While the morale of the Congress is up after its recent wins, it has to guard against any internal sabotage.
The ABP News-CVoter have given the Congress almost 50 per cent of the vote share and 142 and 124-138 seats respectively to the two parties in the 200-member Assembly. However, a minor swing can turn the tide in favour of either.
There are two main chief ministerial aspirants for the Congress. The PCC president Sachin Pilot has the blessings of Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Former chief minister Ashok Gehlot is the other serious contender. The five time Lok Sabha member and two times chief minister is looking for his third chance, though the party high command has not projected any chief ministerial candidate, fearing sabotage.
The BJP has no such problem, as Vasundhara Raje is the chief ministerial candidate despite the decline in her popularity. She has been working hard in the past few months to recover the position. Since the polls are scheduled on December 7, the last among the Assembly polls, the party proposes to field its top leaders in the final stages and also hoping for Modi magic to work in the state.
While the BJP might still win the state, there are problems. First of all, there is an anti- Vasundhara wave. Raje is facing more anti incumbency compared to the other two BJP chief ministers. It is a double whammy as the party is ruling both at the Centre and the state. Even the workers and BJP leaders are upset with Raje’s style of functioning. She is trying to change this perception.
Secondly, there is no opposition unity as the state is facing a multi-cornered contest unlike earlier when it was a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress. The opposition votes might split with the emergence of the Third Front. Seven parties including the SP, CPI, Janata Dal(S), Rashtriya Lok Dal, CPI-ML and CPI–M have come together to form Loktantrik Morcha. The BSP is planning to contest solo in all the 200 seats. All these could cut into the BJP and the Congress votes.
Thirdly, the Congress is not as weak compared to Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. It can win comfortably if it plays its cards well. After all, the difference in vote share is just about two per cent. That is why a minor swing can upset their poll calculations.
Fourthly, the caste factor will play a crucial role. While negotiating caste equations, Raje is in a more difficult position. BJP traditionally has the backing of Rajputs, Gujjzars and Brahmins. Congress has the backing of Jats, Muslims, SC, ST and Meenas. This is changing. Raje faces a formidable challenge in retaining the Rajputs and Gujjars, two of BJP’s core supporters, which can upset Raje’s plans. Gujjars are disenchanted with the BJP for not providing 5 per cent reservation in government jobs and universities andhave edged over to the Congress. The BJP has now turned to Meenas, their archrivals. The Jats, the most influential community, both in terms of numbers and presence in the Assembly, have long been Congress supporters.
Fifthly, Raje’s woes have increased on account of the farmer’s agitation, the High Court stay on Gujjar reservation Bill, and Ordinance prohibiting probe against public servants without sanction, cow vigilantism and the recent Padmavat controversy. She has suspended some welfare schemes like free medicine, started by her predecessor. Doctors, teachers and trading community are unhappy with her rule. However, it is not all bad news, as some of her schemes like Bhamashah Yojna and Jal Swalamban scheme are successful.
Sixthly, farmers are at the centre-stage of this election. Both parties are trying to woo this community, which forms 70% of electorate. To pacify them, Raje has announced recently complete loan waiver for 12,000 farmers.
Finally, a proper ticket distribution might contain the internal sabotage.
It is clear that a win in Rajasthan will set the tone for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. Losing a state in Hindi heartland is a loss of face for the BJP. But still it is ready to face it if it can win the other two states and also Mizoram in the northeast. For the Congress any improvement is good news.
Will Raje somehow manage to win the state in spite of all these? It is a question mark and it depends on Dame Luck. (IPA Service)