Rajasthan: Modi magic on test

The BJP won all 25 seats from Rajasthan in 2014 and 2019, but this time its MPs seem to be battling anti-incumbency.

Published : Mar 31, 2024 18:08 IST - 5 MINS READ

BJP supporters wear masks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a public meeting in Bikaner on March 27.

BJP supporters wear masks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a public meeting in Bikaner on March 27. | Photo Credit: PTI

Electoral contests in Rajasthan have largely been a bipolar affair between the Congress and the BJP. This bipolar pattern will be more or less repeated in the two-phase election scheduled for April 19 and April 26 across the 25 constituencies of the State. The two parties are also likely to attract the bulk of the vote share, unlike in Assembly elections where parties with a smaller footprint and independent candidates hive off at least 15-20 per cent of the votes.

Having won the 2023 Assembly election, the BJP is placed in a slightly advantageous position. Its consecutive wins in 2014 and 2019 in all the 25 Lok Sabha seats also give it an edge. It will, however, have to contend with the weight of anti-incumbency and the relative absence of local heavyweight leaders like Vasundhara Raje. The big question is whether Modi magic will succeed a third time.

Also Read | Factional feuds and shifting alliances shape the battle for Rajasthan Assembly

The 12 seats that go to the polls on April 19 are Ganganagar, Bikaner, Churu, Jhunjhunu, Sikar, Jaipur (Rural), Jaipur, Alwar, Bharatpur, Karauli-Dholpur, Dausa, and Nagaur.

The Congress is at a distinct disadvantage but it is still fighting. One significant feature in this election is the seat-sharing arrangement forged by the INDIA bloc in the State. The arrangement is based on the respective strengths of the alliance partners in the constituencies.

In the November 2023 Assembly election, the Congress did not forge any pre-election alliance except with the Rashtriya Lok Dal even though the smaller parties had expressed a willingness for a seat-sharing arrangement.

This time around, the Congress has a seat-sharing arrangement with the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) in Nagaur and the CPI(M) in Sikar. The RLP, which was founded by Hanuman Beniwal, a maverick farmer leader and former MP from Nagaur, was not so long ago an ally of the National Democratic Alliance.

Beniwal faces Jyoti Mirdha, former Congress MP who joined the BJP on the eve of the Assembly election. In Sikar, four-time MLA and farmer leader Amra Ram of the CPI(M) is the face of the INDIA bloc. He takes on the sitting MP from the BJP, Sumedhanand Saraswati, who has been elected twice from here.

The party could not arrive at an understanding with the Bharatiya Adivasi Party (BAP), a new outfit that opened its innings in the Assembly election with a bang, winning three seats. It has decided to go it alone and its founder, Rajkumar Roat, has announced his own candidature from Banswara-Dungarpur. Roat is at present the MLA from Chorasi. Three-cornered contests are expected in a few seats.

  • Electoral contests in Rajasthan have largely been a bipolar contest between the Congress and BJP; 2024 will not be an exception.
  • The election will be held in two phases on April 19 and April 26 across 25 Lok Sabha constituencies.
  • Having won the 2023 Assembly election, the BJP is placed in a slightly advantageous position.

BJP battling anti-incumbency

The BJP is contesting on its own. There is reason to believe that the party may not repeat its stellar performance of the two previous general elections, given anti-incumbency and the absence of heavyweight local leaders. The “importing” of leaders from the Congress has not gone down too well with the party rank and file.

The 25 sitting MPs from the BJP face anti-incumbency, but finding new candidates is a challenge. In the 2023 Assembly election, the BJP put seven of its MPs into the fray. Three of them lost. One of them, Bhagirath Chaudhary, has been renominated from Ajmer. He faces the Congress’ Ramchandra Chaudhary, a formidable foe. The BJP retained Sukhbir Jaunpuria in Tonk and gave the party ticket to two former MLAs, Rao Rajendra Singh from Jaipur (Rural) and Shubhkaran Chaudhary from Jhunjhunu. New faces have been fielded in Ganganagar, Jaipur, and Rajsamand.

In Kota, where Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla will seek re-election, the Congress has fielded Prahlad Gunjal, a former BJP leader and Vasundhara Raje aide. Gunjal had represented Kota North in the Assembly at least twice before losing in the last election. He joined the Congress on March 21.

The Congress too has lost leaders to the BJP. Mahenderjit Malviya, former Congress MLA and a former Minister in Ashok Gehlot’s Cabinet from Bagidora, is now the BJP candidate from the Scheduled Tribe seat of Banswara. Like Gunjal, he made the switch in March. The fielding of Malviya seems to be a strategy to diminish the influence of the BAP.

In Churu, the Congress has fielded former BJP MP Rahul Kaswan, who was twice elected to Parliament in 2014 and 2019. Denied the BJP ticket this time, he resigned from the primary membership of the party.

Senior BJP leaders like Rajendra Rathore went all out to attack Kaswan, who is known to have been loyal to Vasundhara Raje. The BJP has fielded Devendra Jhajharia, a two-time Paralympic Gold medallist from Churu.

Also Read | BJP’s Rajasthan election strategy: A micro-management model rooted in Hindutva

There is an expected level of fatigue among the cadre and leadership of both parties, who are just recovering from the Assembly election fought in November 2023. As a result, the campaign has been lacklustre so far, and this is bound to affect the prospects of all candidates. One Congress candidate who may not have it easy as a result is Vaibhav Gehlot, Ashok Gehlot’s son, who is contesting from Jalore rather than Jodhpur this time.

The overall outcome will be decided by a combination of factors ranging from selection of candidates and the nature of campaigning, to caste calculations and configurations. For its own survival, the Congress needs to break the jinx and win a few seats in Rajasthan.

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