Assembly Elections - Rajasthan

Emerging factors

Print edition : December 13, 2013

Ashok Gehlot releasing the Congress' election manifesto in Jaipur on November 17. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

With no wave in favour of or against the Congress or the BJP, the influence of new political fronts is expected to be the dominant factor in government formation.

THE Congress is working desperately to retain its hold on power in Rajasthan, where the overwhelming feeling is that the incumbent government may not see a repeat of its 2008 performance for the simple reason that the voters want change. However, there is a grudging admission, even among the opposition ranks, that the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government did some “good work” in the past year and a half. Besides, the electorate, save for a few occasions, has not been voting in a manner that will help the two dominant parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to form the government comfortably on their own. It is not Congress versus BJP anymore. The influence of non-Congress, non-BJP parties and fronts is going to be a dominant factor in government formation in the State.

To muddle the electoral pit, there appears to be no wave either in favour of or against the BJP or the Congress though both parties have striven hard to present their best election campaigners. The two parties have also focussed their attention on those constituencies where influential rebel candidates are contesting either as independents or on the ticket of parties or fronts. Apart from the Congress and the BJP, which have fielded candidates in all the 200 constituencies, the National People’s Party (NPP), or the Rajasthan Jan Party as it is called in the State, and the Rajasthan Loktantrik Morcha (RLM) have fielded their candidates in 142 and 122 seats respectively. The RLM comprises the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Janata Dal (United), the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Samajwadi Party. On 98 seats, there is a consensus among them to support the Morcha’s nominees. On the rest, there will be friendly contests. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), whose six candidates joined the Congress after winning the elections in 2008, is a force to reckon with and it hopes to give the Congress a tough fight. It has put up candidates in 197 seats.

Both the Congress and the BJP have to contend with rebel candidates, some of them heavyweights. Although both parties managed to persuade a few of them to withdraw their nominations, 17 Congress and 16 BJP rebels remain in the fray. The Congress rebels include five former Ministers and seven former legislators. In fact, in the Mandawa constituency in Jhunjhunu district, Pradesh Congress president Chandrabhan faces a formidable rebel candidate, Rita Chaudhary, daughter of former State party president Ram Narain Chaudhary. Harendra Mirdha, grandson of the late Baldev Ram Mirdha, is giving a tough fight to the Congress candidate in Nagaur. The Mirdha family has traditionally supported the Congress. Raj Kumar Sharma, one of the six BSP MLAs who joined the Congress in 2008, has been denied the Congress ticket and he has decided to contest as an independent from Navalgarh.

The prominent BJP rebels include former Speaker and nine-time MLA Sumitra Singh from Jhunjhunu (where she faces Brajendra Ola, son of Union Minister for Labour Sis Ram Ola), and Manish Yadav, a student union leader from Shahpura in Jaipur. Incidentally, Jaipur district with 19 constituencies has always been a BJP stronghold. There are several party functionaries who either have shifted their loyalties to rival parties or are contesting as independents. The problem of rebels arose when both parties renominated most of the sitting MLAs, without taking into consideration other aspirants.

A senior Congress functionary told Frontline that it was impossible to find new candidates who had credibility and organisational backing. “After Mohan Lal Sukhadia and Har Deo Joshi, this is the first time people are going to vote on the name of the Chief Minister and not on that of the candidate. So we will be able to weather the storm of anti-incumbency against the sitting MLAs,” he said, confident that the government’s social security schemes would help it tide over any unfavourable sentiments.

Interestingly, a good number of rebel candidates have been taken into the fold of the RJP, which is steered by the independent Member of Parliament from Dausa, Kirori Lal Meena, who has become a force to reckon with. (See interview.) The RJP is expected to upset the results in more than 24 seats and even win a few seats.

Caste calculations played a role in deciding the candidates. Ravindra Shukla, secretariat member of the CPI(M), believes that the politics of identity and caste has never before been as palpable as in these elections. “Our party has three legislators in the outgoing Assembly and we earned a place for ourselves on the basis of sustained struggles on farmers’ issues. But we find that caste identity politics is a big challenge. More than the political party and the issues that it represents, the appeal of caste is growing by the day,” he said. The CPI(M) is contesting from 37 constituencies.

Onkar Singh Lakhawat, BJP State unit vice-president, told Frontline that his party was confident of forming a government on its own. “If you ask the people if they are happy, they will say no. People need a government that can deliver on all fronts. A policeman was burnt alive. How can this government say it has been successful?” he said, adding that inflation was a big issue. “The government has failed on five counts: inflation, law and order, power supply, water supply and roads. All the jobs they claim to have generated have been challenged by the courts,” he said.

The contest, he said, was clearly between the two parties, with the BJP poised to secure nothing less than a two-thirds majority. He dismissed the impact of rebel candidates, saying that every election threw up a dozen rebels. Notwithstanding the confidence exuded by the BJP leaders, it is evident that the party is not leaving anything to chance as by and large the opinion is that the contest is going to be a “close” one.

The voters have been by and large silent even as the two main parties have gone about broadcasting their achievements aggressively through the mass media and through rallies. “There is no doubt that the Gehlot government got active in the past one year. People are getting some relief from the free medicines and old-age pension schemes, but the reduction of VAT on petrol and diesel should have been higher so that the common man did not feel the burden of price rise,” a government employee said. However, it has not escaped the Congress leadership that the farmer community is unhappy with the minimum support price. That is the reason why the party, in its manifesto, has given top priority to evolving a mechanism for fixing a fair price.

High-profile seats

At least 18 constituencies are deemed high profile and triangular contests are expected in these. At Sardarpura in Jodhpur district, Chief Minister Gehlot faces Shambhu Singh Khetasar, who has the backing of the Jodhpur royal family. The constituency is dominated by Rajput and Maali voters, and political observers believe that this will make the contest an interesting one. On the other hand, Vasundhara Raje, the BJP’s State president and chief ministerial candidate, faces a rather weak Congress rival in the Jhalrapatan constituency in Jhalawar district. At Mandawa, by fielding a Muslim candidate, the BJP hopes to attract minority votes and affect the chances of Chandrabhan, who is up against a Congress rebel.

At Sawai Madhopur, a triangular contest between Diya Kumari of the BJP, K.L. Meena, and Abrar Ahmed of the Congress has emerged as one of the most curious contests. Meena has been touring the State extensively for the past eight months hoping to consolidate his presence not only in eastern Rajasthan but elsewhere, too.

In the Shekhawati region comprising Churu, Sikar and Jhunjhunu districts, election to the Churu Assembly seat has been deferred until December 13 following the demise of the BSP candidate, Jagdish Meghwal. Rajendra Rathore, a close lieutenant of Vasundhara Raje, was in the fray. In Sikar district, the constituency to watch out for is Dataramgarh, which will see a triangular fight between four-time CPI(M) MLA Amra Ram, Harish Kumawat of the BJP and former State Congress president Narain Singh. Amra Ram, who represented Dhod constituency three times in the past before it was declared a reserved seat, surprised pollsters in 2008 by defeating Narain Singh, the Congress heavyweight who had represented Dataramgarh seven times in the past. At Deeg-Kumher, it is going to be a straight contest between Digambar Singh, the sitting BJP MLA, and Vishwendra Singh of the Congress. Other constituencies to watch out for are Mahua, Rajgarh, Luni, Lalsot, Kota and Civil Lines (Jaipur). The Congress and the BJP have exchanged charges and countercharges through their campaigns. While releasing the Congress manifesto, Gehlot quoted an Associated Chamber of Commerce (Assocham) report to explain how the State had fared rather well in some of its indicators and was on “top of the backward States”. He observed that there were shortcomings in every State and that Rajasthan was no exception. Said Vasudev, State secretary of the CPI(M): “What is the point in comparing with the [other] BIMARU [Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh] States. He should have compared [the State’s indicators] with Kerala instead.”

The BJP released a “black paper” detailing the various “misdeeds” of the government. The Congress, for its part, accused the BJP of not playing the role of an effective opposition, among other things. “Vasundhara Raje described the government’s welfare schemes as rewaris [sugar-coated] ,” a close aide of Ghelot said. “We had approved all the schemes in our annual Budget in 2013 but it took us time to implement the same.” When asked about the almost four dozen incidents affecting the minorities in the State, he said not a single incident was allowed to spread. Referring to the incident in Gopalgarh, Bharatpur, where 10 members of the minority community were killed in police firing, he said for the first time in the history of the State both the Collector and the Superintendent of Police were suspended. The Congress had nominated more aspirants from the minority community than the BJP, he said, adding that the party had even promised to set up a separate welfare board for Meo Muslims. “You cannot blame the head of the family for everything,” he said.

Looking at the overall urban-rural character of the State, there is little doubt that the majority of voters are in the rural areas. Of the 45,334 polling stations, a staggering 36,528 are in the rural areas and only 8,806 are in the urban areas. The lion’s share of the 59 reserved seats (34 for the Scheduled Castes and 25 for the Scheduled Tribes are also in the rural areas). There are 85 lakh first-time voters, all youth and with aspirations, too. As in 2008, election observers predict that the December 1, 2013, elections may throw up quite a few surprises. And, evidently, the route to the Assembly is mostly through the villages.

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