Voting for change

Print edition : May 16, 2014

At a polling station in Sirohi district on April 17. Photo: AMIT DAVE/REUTERS

Voters on their way to a booth in Sirohi district. Photo: AMIT DAVE/REUTERS

IN an election that is turning out to be largely personality-driven, the outcome in the 25 parliamentary seats in Rajasthan appears to be favourably tilted towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The mood is for change, and change at present seems to be represented by the hyped-up image of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. “People were so fed up with the Congress that they voted for change. In the absence of a third alternative, they see only what is being shown to them aggressively,” a political observer said. It is an election where issues are not being talked about openly, and people expect a miracle to be delivered, a miracle that is being promised to them if Modi becomes Prime Minister.

Congress in disarray

In Tonk, where the Congress has fielded Mohammad Azharuddin, former Indian cricket captain and the outgoing MP from Moradabad, party workers at the election office of the BJP claimed that there was no other party in the fray except theirs.

A Congress worker explained why his party is in such a mess: “The selection of candidates has been all wrong. All the talk of primaries has been in the air. The campaign itself has not taken off at the grass roots. First, you have to identify the village, then the issues, then satisfy the disgruntled workers. Just waving your hand and doing roadshows is not going to get you votes.”

The Congress was trounced in the recently held Assembly elections and is not expected to stage a revival in this election either. In the 200-seat Assembly, it has only 21 members, its most depleted presence ever in the legislature. The party grossly underestimated the impact of double anti-incumbency. Inflation, more than corruption, led to its decimation. Though the electorate appreciated the Ashok Gehlot government’s welfare measures, inflation washed out everything. The minorities, too, were upset with the Congress as there were as many as 36 incidents of violence against minority community members, including the police firing at Gopalgarh that killed 10 Meos. Minorities, who form 9 to 10 per cent of the State’s population, have traditionally voted for the Congress.

The Modi factor gathered momentum only after the Assembly elections. The Assembly election outcome was a mandate for change. Voters were willing to forget the excesses during Vasundhara Raje’s previous regime, under which over hundred people died in state responses to agitations. Gujjars were killed in police firing, and farmers died during agitations in Sri Ganganagar district and Sohela in Tonk district. The Congress, instead of strengthening its organisation, revamped its leadership structure, sidelining Gehlot and replacing Chandra Bhan with Sachin Pilot as the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC). Chief Minister Gehlot has largely been missing from the campaign, except on occasions such as Rahul Gandhi’s rally at Karauli. “Gehlot did not do anything against the party. There is not a single blemish on his career. He should not have been treated thus. It is like pulling down a structure built assiduously over the last 30 years,” said a Congressman in Jaipur.

Development models—redundant issue

Despite the hype around the Gujarat model of development in general, the issue was not discussed in any cogent and comprehensive manner. Interestingly, copies of the manifestos of both the Congress and the BJP were not seen anywhere, even in district party offices. Party workers solicited votes in the name of Narendra Modi. The voters that Frontline spoke to did not seem bothered about development issues or what they knew about Gujarat, but they were emphatic about change. And the discourse on change had become increasingly centred on Modi. Hindu votes, though they may not have been consolidated entirely on communal lines, saw a consolidation in favour of change, any kind of change. The media clearly played a major role in this. “Kejriwal was created by the media and dumped by them too. It will happen in this case too,” said a supporter of Kirori Lal Meena, patron of the Nationalist People’s Party (NPP) in Dausa.

Vasudev, secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist), pointed out that there was practically no discussion anywhere about development. “I have never witnessed such a low level of campaigning by both the Congress and the BJP. Name calling and communal rhetoric were at their height. Even personal issues were raked up at public fora,” he told Frontline. He said that the rhetoric around the development model in Gujarat would not sell in Rajasthan as many parts of the two States resembled each other in levels of development. Villages in Kotada, Udaipur and Banswara, which are close to the Gujarat border, resemble the villages in the neighbouring State.

Compared with inflation, corruption has been a minor issue. It was interesting that rebel leaders of the BJP like Subhash Maharia or Jaswant Singh were being labelled as corrupt. “As long as they were in the party, they were okay. The BJP has a peculiar definition of corruption,” said Vasudev. Voters did not seem to be overly affected by the fact that senior Ministers in the State government who were campaigning had tainted backgrounds.


Muslims, who form 9 to 10 per cent of the population, constitute the largest minority community in the State. But their presence in the 200-seat Assembly is just 1 per cent. In the outgoing Assembly, there were 12 Muslim legislators. The Congress fielded 16 minority community candidates in the last Assembly elections; all of them lost. This was the first time that not a single minority community member was elected from the Congress. The only two minority community members to win were from the BJP. “We don’t expect them to raise any issues pertaining to our community, leave alone issues of security,” said a representative of the community. In the Lok Sabha elections, while the Congress has given one seat to a Muslim, Azharuddin from Tonk, the BJP has not given the party ticket to a single minority community member.

Frontline learnt that there was a deep sense of despondency among the Muslims. Disappointed with the Congress and its inability to put up a good fight, many did not vote and a few voted for the BJP. The majority of those who voted did opt for the Congress; some chose the Aam Aadmi Party. Despite a spate of violent incidents during the Congress regime, in which minority community members were the victims, the community voted for the Congress in the Assembly elections.

Since the Vasundhara Raje government assumed the reins of power, there have been half a dozen communal incidents with varying intensity. The very first was the clash in Pratapgarh district where three persons were killed and property of Muslims was destroyed. ( Frontline, February 21, 2014). The people whom Frontline spoke to said that incidents like eve-teasing had generally gone up, but where Muslim youth were involved, it was given a communal colour. There are now more incidents of minority community processions being stopped. The opportunity for communal rhetoric came when the State police arrested six youngsters from Sikar during the elections on charges of being terrorists. This was picked up by the BJP nominee, Swami Sumedhanand, at a meeting in Neem Ka Thana where Vasundhara Raje, too, added her bit, while responding to Iqbal Masood’s inflammatory statements made in Uttar Pradesh. Vasundhara Raje was reported to have said: “We will see who will get cut into pieces after the elections.” Interestingly, Vasundhara Raje, like her late mentor Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was never seen as a hard-core Hindutva person.

Muslims have a sizeable presence in almost a dozen districts, including Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Jaipur, Alwar, Tonk, Barmer, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Bharatpur. The community had voted by and large for non-BJP candidates who were in a position to defeat the BJP. There has been no consolidation of the Muslim vote because of the perceived weakness of the Congress and a third alternative. “The kind of response that was seen earlier in the long queues at polling stations in minority areas, was missing this time,” said an observer. The problem was that the Congress itself was not seen as enthused in bringing out the voters to the polling booths. “The Congress has not been fighting Modi as much as it has been settling scores within its own ranks,” said a party sympathiser.

Changing demography of leadership

Both the BJP and the Congress have been wooing the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) into their fold, shedding their traditional image of representing certain caste interests. Whether it has to do with the numerical or growing political clout of these castes is a matter that remains to be explored. When the Congress removed Chandra Bhan as the PCC president and opted for Sachin Pilot, this was seen as a move to placate other sections of the OBC community. But there was a feeling among Congressmen that the manner in which Ashok Gehlot was sidelined was not good for the organisational future of the party. “The transition should have been smooth. Gehlot still commands considerable respect amongst the electorate and it was incorrect to pin all responsibility for the defeat on him as the Central policies were as much to blame for the debacle. Also, it was observed that second-rung leaders were sent to campaign while most of the top leadership stayed away,” said a Congressman on condition of anonymity.

On the other hand, the BJP’s increasing push to get Jats into its fold and the fielding of Jats as contestants, some of them Congress defectors, such as Sona Ram, are also an indication of the party’s changing social base. Dalits and the Scheduled Tribes, on the other hand, and the minorities, continue to be by and large with the Congress. Similarly, the Meenas were never known to vote for the BJP, but after the emergence of K.L. Meena, who was in the BJP earlier, the party has begun to woo them assiduously. Its fielding of Harish Meena against his own brother at Dausa was an indication of this phenomenon. Similarly, in Tonk-Sawaimadhopur, the fielding of Sukhbir Singh Jaunpuria, a Gujjar and a former legislator from Sohna in Haryana, was seen as an attempt to attract Gujjar votes as well as other caste-Hindu votes in this highly polarised constituency. The presence of Jagmohan Meena, brother of K.L. Meena, here as the NPP candidate is likely to further harm the Congress.

Therefore, the fielding of candidates has been largely on caste lines, targeting groups that are associated with a larger clout, economic and political, in addition to those who are already identified as the traditional vote bases of these parties. Issues of class, therefore, are secondary, with only the Left parties being committed to raise them. Vasudev pointed out that after the 1990s in particular, the panchayat elections were fought with party symbols and the BJP had made inroads into the rural areas. He also pointed out that areas that had seen democratic peasant struggles were facing the danger of a feudal comeback, given the kind of insular politics that was being pursued by certain parties.

At a village in Lalsot, Dausa, a group of young men told Frontline that they all had degrees but no jobs. One of them said: “There is no industry here. The water table is low. The government talks about linking rivers but does nothing. We are Meenas but we have not benefited from reservation. Kirori Lal Meena also has not done much work in his constituency but we will vote for him because at least one can enter his house without knocking at the door. We don’t want him to dig a well for us. He is accessible. There is no Modi wave in the rural areas. There is only a Kirori wave here.”

Notwithstanding the calculations of political parties while fielding candidates, the electorate has by and large voted strategically where issues of community, security and livelihood have dominated. To that extent, voting in Rajasthan, as in the rest of the country, is being determined by multiple factors, including a created wave in favour of a particular individual, especially in the urban constituencies.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

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