It is a battle of the Congress’ seven guarantees versus the BJP’s Central schemes in Rajasthan in the election to the 200-member Assembly to be held on November 25. However, rampant dissension plagues both parties, resulting in a confidence deficit in both about the result. That is perhaps why the BJP is not projecting a chief ministerial face, preferring to go with “collective leadership”, and the Congress is persisting with Ashok Gehlot as the main face of its campaign.
The star campaigner for the BJP is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “It is a Modi versus Gehlot scenario,” said a Congress source, stressing that the party’s welfare schemes, especially those targeting women, will bear fruit. But the BJP has similar schemes in its arsenal, and the recent announcement about extending the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for another five years has been seen as a masterstroke by its supporters. In constituencies where it can gain from polarisation, the BJP is expected to play the religion card. Its candidates have already begun referring to the “insults” to Sanatana Dharma and to tushtikaran (appeasement of minorities).
On its part, the Congress has taken steps to quell dissent and convey the message that no one is indispensable. It inducted former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, considered Gehlot’s political bete noire, into the Congress Working Committee (its highest decision-making body). Whatever may have been the consideration, including making Gehlot feel insecure, the bitterness between the two has come down a few notches as can be seen in the restraint in their public responses.
Too many claimants for Chief Minister post
The BJP has almost a dozen claimants to the top post. According to a party insider, the party decided to go in for collective leadership to tap into the voter bases of a range of chief ministerial aspirants rather than just one or two. However, this strategy could end badly for the BJP if it does not get a comfortable majority, with the possibility of an open feud breaking out between the claimants to the chair.
The Congress, meanwhile, has its fair share of issues to contend with, the most recent being Enforcement Directorate raids against Pradesh Congress chief Govind Dotasra, who is contesting again from Lachhmangarh, and Ashok Gehlot’s son, Vaibhav Gehlot. The denial of the party ticket to sitting legislators is an additional cause of heartburning. The Congress denied its ticket to 21 sitting MLAs, including Gehlot’s confidant and Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi, who represented the Hawa Mahal seat in Jaipur district. Joshi, a Cabinet Minister and former MP from Jaipur city, was among the three leaders who faced disciplinary action for leading a boycott of the meeting in the run-up to the Congress organisational elections.
Joshi, a known troubleshooter, may have been axed to keep the Pilot faction happy and deliver a direct snub to Gehlot. Two of Pilot’s supporters, Manish Yadav and Abhimanyu Poonia, have been retained and will contest from Shahpura and Sangaria respectively.
Rajasthan Assembly Election 2023: In Numbers
Rebels can cause damage
The number of rebels who filed nominations has been low in the Congress relative to that in the BJP. Barring Girraj Singh Malinga, who was denied the ticket from Bari (Dholpur), and Jyoti Mirdha, former MP from Nagaur, most of the Congress rebels are not sitting MLAs. Yet, their potential to cause damage cannot be ruled out.
Both Mirdha and Malinga joined the BJP and are contesting from Nagaur and Bari, respectively. The contest in Nagaur will be interesting because the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party’s (RLP) Hanuman Beniwal, the MP from Nagaur, is also in the fray. Before the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Beniwal broke away from the BJP due to differences with Vasundhara Raje, but insiders say he might not make much of an impact this time and his party will find it difficult to hold on to the two seats it won in the last election. “The RLP will play spoiler to both the Congress and the BJP. That’s the extent of its influence,” sources said.
Several Congress leaders have joined the BJP this time, including former Jaipur Mayor Jyoti Khandelwal, and former MLAs Chandrashekhar Baid, Nandlal Poonia, Hari Singh Saharan, and Sanwarmal Maharia, all of whom have a presence in the Shekhawati region (Churu, Sikar, Neem Ka Thana, and Jhunjhunu districts). Nandlal Poonia’s daughter-in-law Sumitra Poonia is the BJP nominee from Sadulpur in Churu district.
- It is a battle of the Congress’ seven guarantees versus the BJP’s Central schemes in Rajasthan in the election to the 200-member Assembly to be held on November 25.
- The star campaigner for the BJP is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “It is a Modi versus Gehlot scenario,” said a Congress source.
- The number of rebels who filed nominations has been low in the Congress relative to that in the BJP.
- The extent to which the BJP’s choices have been dictated by the Centre can be gauged from the number of sitting or former MPs who are contesting the election.
BJP not immune to rebellion
The BJP, too, has had its fair share of rebellion. Former Assembly Speaker and veteran BJP leader Kailash Meghwal filed his nomination as an independent from the reserved seat of Shahpura after he was denied the ticket. In September, he had gone public with accusations against Union Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, following which he was suspended from the party. Yunus Khan, who was a Minister in Vasundhara Raje’s Cabinet, filed his nomination from Deedwana in Nagaur as an independent. He had contested unsuccessfully against Sachin Pilot in Tonk in the 2018 election. By not giving him the ticket, the BJP denied itself the opportunity to field its only Muslim candidate.
The extent to which the BJP’s choices have been dictated by the Centre can be gauged from the number of sitting or former MPs who are contesting the election. The list includes Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, former Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, in Jhotwara (Jaipur); Diya Kumari, MP from Rajsamand, in Vidhyadhar Nagar (Jaipur); Balak Nath, MP from Alwar, in Tijara (Alwar), Kirodi Lal Meena, member of the Rajya Sabha, in Sawai Madhopur; and Santosh Ahlawat, former MP from Jhunjhunu and former MLA from Surajgarh, in Surajgarh. Surajgarh is a part of Jhunjhunu parliamentary constituency.
This strategy of the BJP led to many sitting MLAs being denied the ticket or having to change constituencies. For instance, Rajpal Singh Shekhawat, who had won twice from Jhotwara, had to concede his seat to Rajyavardhan Rathore. Narpat Singh Rajvi, MLA from Vidyadhar Nagar since 2009, vacated his seat for Diya Kumari. Rajvi, who is the son-in-law of former Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, rebelled and was mollified and asked to contest from Chittorgarh. This upset the Chittorgarh MLA, Chandrabhan Singh Aakya, who put in his papers and is contesting as a rebel. Aakya accused the Chittorgarh MP and current BJP State president C.P. Joshi of sabotaging his interests.
BJP omits Muslim candidates
The Congress has fielded 15 Muslim candidates, including two women, Zahida Khan from Kaman in Bharatpur and Naseem Akhtar from Pushkar. The BJP has none. Zahida is a Minister of State in the outgoing Gehlot government and faces Nauksham Chaudhary, a relatively new entrant to the BJP from Mewat whose controversial comments on social media have attracted attention.
Zahida has experience on her side but faces disgruntlement in her constituency. She was elected twice to the Assembly, in 2008 and 2018. She hails from a Congress family, and her father, the late Chaudhary Tayyab Husain, was a former MP from Gurgaon and a tall Meo leader from Mewat, Haryana.
The Congress dropped two women candidates this time: in Ramgarh (Alwar), Zubair Khan replaced his wife and sitting MLA Shafia Zubair, and Rajendra Trivedi replaced Gayatri Devi in the Sahara segment of Bhilwara. Of the 34 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and 25 for Scheduled Tribes, the Congress has nominated eight women for the SC seats and one woman for the ST seat. Meanwhile, the BJP has put forward nine women for the SC seats and one woman in the ST category.
The 2023 numbers
There are a total of 1,875 candidates in the fray, 419 fewer than in 2018. There are about 45 rebel candidates from both the Congress and the BJP. In the last election, the BJP had 23 women candidates and the Congress 27. This year, the BJP has 20 and the Congress has 28. Both parties have made a bid to give more seats to women, with narishakti, or woman power, a favourite tag line for the BJP and women’s safety a recurring theme in its campaigns. Women voters are a significant constituency that neither party can afford to ignore.
Rajasthan has 52,788,931 eligible voters, of which 27.4 lakh are men and 25.3 lakh are women, including 2.2 lakh new voters. In the 2018 election, there were 46,634,053 electors.
The line-up of those contesting has some prominent names. For the Congress, apart from Gehlot and Pilot, those contesting are PCC chief Govind Dotasra, Congress national spokesperson Gourav Vallabh, Harendra Mirdha, Shanti Dhariwal, Sonaram Choudhary, and Manvendra Singh. The prominent BJP names include former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, former State BJP chief Satish Poonia, Rajendra Rathore, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, and Diya Kumari. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded 17 candidates, renominating two sitting MLAs. Four-time MLA Amra Ram, who is also the party’s State secretary, is contesting from Danta Ramgarh.
The INDIA grouping’s seat sharing does not seem to have worked in any of the States going to the polls. The Aam Aadmi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Samajwadi Party will be contesting fewer seats.
In an interview to a television channel, in a mien uncharacteristic of him, Ashok Gehlot said he wanted to gift Rajasthan to Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi. He said something similar in an interview to Frontline, dismissing the anti-incumbency factor. Whether it is a case of misplaced confidence or a true assessment of voter inclination will be known on December 3.