BJP faces uphill battle in Rajasthan as anti-incumbency and shifting alliances challenge its dominance

The party that made a clean sweep of all 25 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and 2019 may face a tough contest from Congress and allies in 10 seats.

Published : Apr 27, 2024 17:33 IST - 8 MINS READ

After voting in Masuda, Rajasthan, on April 26.

After voting in Masuda, Rajasthan, on April 26. | Photo Credit: HIMANSHU SHARMA/AFP

Rajasthan, with its 25 seats, is understandably important to any party looking to secure a majority in the Lok Sabha. The BJP, which was voted to power in the State in the 2023 Assembly election, made a clean sweep of all 25 seats in the general elections of both 2014 and 2019. Repeating that performance may not be easy this time.

The BJP’s vote share has risen with every general election in the past 15 years: 36.6 per cent in 2009, 55.6 per cent in 2014, and 59.1 per cent in 2019. The Congress’ vote share witnessed a decline of 13 percentage points between 2009 and 2019. However, in the 2023 Assembly election, the Congress did not see a big dent in its vote share despite losing, indicating that its core voters are still with it.

Also Read | Rajasthan: Modi magic on test

There are indications that the BJP may not be able to win all 25 seats this time since, after a decade in office, its MPs face anti-incumbency. The low voter turnout in the first phase on April 19 (58.28 per cent against 63.71 per cent in 2019 and 63.1 per cent in 2014) is also not too encouraging.

Although the BJP won the 2023 State election, three of the seven sitting MPs who contested were defeated. The party had claimed then that it would get at least 150 of the 200 seats but eventually won 115, while the Congress retained 70. Their vote shares differed by less than 2 per cent.

The Congress in Rajasthan is now more united that it was in late 2023. The trading of allegations between rival factions led by Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot seem to have stopped after the electoral defeat. Party sources told Frontline that ticket distribution for the election was done keeping both factions in mind.

Govind Chaturvedi, a former deputy editor of a leading Hindi daily, said: “The BJP will not get a hat-trick. The Congress is determined to win a substantial number of seats, and the ground situation seems favourable. Eight to 10 seats will see a tough contest.”

The forging of an alliance with the CPI(M) in Sikar and the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party in Nagaur is expected to boost the Congress’ prospects in areas where these parties have a support base. Both are partners in the INDIA bloc.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the election rally in Banswara where he made the controversial speech describing Muslims as “infiltrators”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the election rally in Banswara where he made the controversial speech describing Muslims as “infiltrators”. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Congress also has a partnership with the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP) in the Banswara-Dungarpur seat. Curiously, Banswara will see a triangular contest as the Congress candidate, Arvind Damor, did not withdraw his nomination in time, citing communication issues. But the Congress leadership has publicly declared its support to Rajkumar Roat, the BAP candidate.

The Congress faced difficulties in finding candidates. It has fielded a few former BJP MLAs who were denied a ticket by their party. Likewise, the BJP too has imported Congress leaders into its fold. Its Banswara-Dungarpur candidate is Mahendrajit Singh Malviya, who was elected on the Congress ticket from Bagidora in the Assembly election but defected to the BJP in March this year. Left in the lurch, the Congress leadership explored the idea of an alliance with the BAP, which had a presence in some of the seats reserved for tribal candidates. But the journey was far from smooth. In a letter to the All India Congress Committee president, Ramila Khadiya, the MLA from the Scheduled Tribe seat of Kushalgarh in Banswara, wrote that the alliance with the BAP in Banswara and Udaipur was not a good idea and that the Congress would be better off contesting alone. Undeniably, there were some misgivings about giving up seats to alliance partners in areas where the Congress had a good chance of winning.

BJP fighting it alone

The BJP is fighting it alone without an alliance partner. Despite dropping as many as 11 sitting members, including some who won with huge margins, the party faces strong anti-incumbency winds. Moreover, its tallest leader, former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, has not stepped out of Jhalawar to campaign for the party nor was she assigned any specific responsibilities. Her son, Dushyant Singh, the sitting MP from Jhalawar, is seeking re-election for the sixth time.

The issue of the grievances of farmers and women wrestlers might impact the BJP. The Jats, a powerful peasant community, are resentful over the government’s failure to guarantee a minimum support price and assured procurement. Issues of debt and loan waivers also rankle with the farming community. That the women wrestlers whose grievances were ignored by the Centre are all from the Jat community cannot be overlooked.

The sidelining of former State BJP president Satish Poonia, also a Jat, has not gone down well with the community. A former MLA from the Amber Assembly segment, Poonia was replaced by Chandra Prakash Joshi, MP from Chittorgarh, eight months before the Assembly election. Poonia was given no specific responsibility in the Lok Sabha election; he was only given charge of some constituencies in Haryana.

“Who knows what is on the mind of the high command. We have a Chief Minister whom no one knows about. He contested from the safe seat of Sanganer,” said a disenchanted BJP worker who was unhappy that leaders such as Vasundhara Raje had been left out.

Women on their way to a polling station to cast their vote on April 26 in Barmer, Rajasthan.

Women on their way to a polling station to cast their vote on April 26 in Barmer, Rajasthan. | Photo Credit: ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

Besides the Jats, the Rajputs are also unhappy with the BJP. In Lalsot, in Dausa district, BJP supporters spoke about BJP leaders not coming out in support when men like Sukhdev Singh Gogamedi and Anandpal were targeted. Gogamedi, president of the Karni Sena, a right-wing outfit representing Rajput interests, was shot dead on December 5, 2023. Anandpal Singh, a notorious gangster, was shot dead in an encounter in Churu in 2017. Although it can be safely assumed that the Rajput vote bank lies securely with the BJP, these factors could cause damage in a bipolar election to some extent.

The “doube-engine” promise

The “double-engine” promise did not seem to work in the Assembly election to the extent that the BJP might have wished and is less likely to work in the Lok Sabha election. The public’s unease over the arrest of Chief Ministers Arvind Kejriwal (Delhi) and Hemant Soren (Jharkhand), the charges of misuse of Central investigative agencies, and the electoral bonds corruption issue may all hurt the BJP. Besides, the perception that the BJP protects the interests of corporates seems to be catching on with a section of voters.

  • The BJP won all 25 parliamentary seats in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
  • In 2024, the Congress may not draw a blank again.
  • The Congress is more united in Rajasthan after the setback in Assembly election.

The low turnout on April 19 came as a surprise to all political parties. The door-to-door voter mobilisation that the Sangh Parivar usually practises during elections was reportedly missing this time. After reports of the low turnout, BJP functionaries are said to have instructed party workers to spruce up the campaign and make sure that people had voter slips, one way of ensuring that people come out to cast their vote.

The low turnout might have spurred BJP leaders into taking recourse to polarising rhetoric. Before the first phase, the emphasis was on “Modi’s guarantees”, India’s global standing during Modi’s tenure, and the “corrupt” opposition. There was no polarising campaign until Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly changed tack in Banswara, accusing the Congress of Muslim appeasement and being in the clutches of “urban Naxals”. Incidentally, the reserved seat of Banswara is one of the dozen-odd seats where the BJP faces a tough contest.

Modi claimed at the rally that the Congress would redistribute wealth and resources to “those with more children” if it came to power. The Congress manifesto, he claimed, had also promised to do a survey of individual property and gold and redistribute it among others. He said that a previous Congress government (under Manmohan Singh) had said that Muslims had the first right to the country’s resources. He also mentioned ghuspaithiyes, or infiltrators, a term understood to mean Muslims, evoking cheers from the crowd.

The Congress challenged Modi to show that it had said any such thing in its manifesto. It also petitioned the Election Commission of India (ECI), which sent a notice to BJP president J.P. Nadda for violation of the code of ethics. Close to 17,000 citizens also petitioned the ECI.

A total of 266 candidates are in the fray for the 25 seats, including 19 women candidates. The BJP has fielded five women candidates; the Congress, three. The BJP has also renominated four Union Ministers—Bhupendra Chaudhary from Alwar; Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Jodhpur; Kailash Chaudhary, Barmer; and Arjun Ram Meghwal, Bikaner—and Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla from Kota. State president Chandra Prakash Joshi is the nominee from Chittorgarh. The prominent names in the Congress include Vaibhav Gehlot from Jalore, former Union Minister and Assembly Speaker C.P. Joshi from Bhilwara, and former Cabinet Minister Pratap Khachariyawas from Jaipur.

Also Read | INDIA bloc gathers steam in Rajasthan

Rajasthan will see a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP in 22 seats, and a three-cornered fight in Barmer and Banswara. There are at least 10 seats where the Congress and its allies are expected to do well.

Modi, the star campaigner for the BJP, was roped in for the second phase of polling. In the absence of a strong undercurrent that is pro-Modi or pro-BJP and its model of Viksit Bharat, only the results on June 4 will reveal to what extent the politics of polarisation has helped the BJP in this election.

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