Rajasthan

Spectacular victory

Print edition : December 27, 2013

In Jaipur, Vasundhara Raje speaks to the media after the BJP's resounding victory on December 8. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot conceding defeat at a press conference in Jaipur on December 8. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

In Rajasthan, the BJP sweeps with a performance that goes far beyond even the party’s wildest imagination.

That the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had an edge in Rajasthan was clear, but its total sweep was not expected even by the BJP. Led by State party president Vasundhara Raje, the party secured a three-fourths majority in the 199 seats that went to the polls on December 1. (The election in Churu was adjourned following the death of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate.)

The incumbent Congress government recorded its worst-ever performance in the elections, winning a humiliating 21 seats. Even in 2003, when Vasundhara Raje assumed the reins of power for the first time, the Congress’ performance was not so bad. In the 2008 elections, when the BJP had become extremely unpopular, the Congress failed to cross the 100-seat mark and barely managed to form the government with the help of the BSP.

While most exit polls predicted a comfortable win for the BJP, none expected the Congress to fare so badly, especially because there was reason to believe that the Ashok Gehlot government had scored well on the development front at least in the last one year with a slew of welfare schemes.

The high voter turnout, at 75 per cent compared with 67 per cent in 2008, indicated a predominance of first-time voters; some 85 lakh voters exercised their franchise for the first time. A total of 2,097 candidates were in the fray. The contests were expected to be mainly bipolar, but in the event of a hung Assembly, which according to many a calculation was a possibility, the two fronts, the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Rajasthan Loktantrik Morcha, and the BSP were expected to play a role. The fact is that none of the contesting political parties discerned a strong anti-Congress sentiment in the State. Even the BJP’s spokespersons talked about only a comfortable majority and at best a two-thirds majority.

The Gehlot government faced the anti-incumbency factor, in the State and at the Centre. While there was no palpable wave in favour or against any party, the Congress government’s inability to address issues such as price rise of essential commodities and inadequate minimum support price for farmers may well have played a crucial role in its defeat. For nearly four months preceding the election, the price of onions was between Rs.80 and Rs.100 in parts of the State. The Congress did little more than blame it on the vagaries of the weather and hoarding. The BJP, perhaps sensing the people’s discontent, focussed on corruption and price rise and ensured that the twin issues dominated the party’s campaign. The presence of its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, may also have helped consolidate the voters behind the party.

The Congress in its campaign tried hard to highlight its welfare schemes, such as those for free medicines and free diagnostic tests, and its pension for the elderly and widows, but failed to make an impact mainly because of their late implementation. The other components of the development plank it pushed were a refinery in Barmer and the metro rail project in Jaipur. The government claimed it had spent some Rs.5,000 crore on welfare schemes. But it did not campaign enough about these achievements, said a Congress source.

While the party’s election meetings were fairly well attended, much of its campaign was reactive, focussed more on attacking the BJP. Although both parties factored in caste considerations in ticket allocation and tried to reduce the elections to a personality driven affair, issues appeared to have prevailed more than anything else.

The BJP, under Vasundhara Raje’s leadership, started late; rivalry among its senior leaders threatened to spoil the campaign even before it had begun. Vasundhara Raje herself was perceived as one who spent more time outside the State rather than function as an effective Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. Besides, there were serious charges against some senior BJP leaders, including their alleged involvement in encounter killings. But there was also a perception that Vasundhara Raje was a good administrator and would perhaps better address issues such as price rise and deteriorating law and order than the Congress.

The role of rebels of both parties and other fronts too cannot be discounted in deciding the outcome of the elections. In fact, it appears that the rebel factor affected the Congress more than the BJP. The Congress had given the ticket to the kith and kin of at least three tainted candidates on the grounds that the relatives were not tainted and were organisationally active. But voters summarily rejected these candidates too. Among them were Leela Maderna, wife of former Minister Mahipal Maderna who is facing a jail term; the octogenarian mother-candidate of another murder accused, Malkhan Bishnoi; and the brother of former Minister Babulal Nagar, from Dudu constituency. Nagar resigned following charges of rape against him.

In the BJP, the prominent names who won included former Education Minister Ghanshyam Tiwari from Sanganer, Gulab Chand Kataria from Udaipur, Kiran Maheshwari from Rajsamand and Vasundhara Raje from Jhalrapatan. Among the non-BJP and non-Congress parties, the NPP emerged with the largest share, while the BSP could not retain its 2008 tally of six seats, which had been crucial in propping up the Gehlot government. Independents won seven seats, and the Zamindara Party made its debut with two seats.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had three seats in the outgoing Assembly, could not retain any of them. Former State Congress chief Narayan Singh, who lost to Amra Ram of the CPI(M) in 2008, managed to make a comeback at Danta Ramgarh in Sikar. The CPI(M) lost its two other seats of Anupgarh and Dhod to the BJP.

This is by all means the best performance of the BJP and the worst for the Congress in Assembly elections in the State. In 2003, the BJP, under Vasundhara Raje’s leadership, won 120 seats. As for the Congress, it was a combination of double anti-incumbency, corruption, price rise and poor implementation of development schemes that did it in.

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