With only few weeks left for the largest state in the country to go to the polls, the ruling BJP received a setback on November 14 after its two leaders quit the party to contest the upcoming elections for Congress. Former DGP and Dausa MP Harish Chandra Meena and five-time MLA from Nagaur Habibur Rahaman joined the Congress after BJP denied them a ticket.
Rajasthan is the largest state of India. With a total of 200 assembly seat, it has significant political importance for both regional and national political parties like Bhartiya Janta Party(BJP), Indian National Congress(INC), Janta Dal, Communist Party of India (CPI) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The voters here do not give any particular party a free run. In the past two decades, no political party has been elected for the second consecutive term. But, the incumbent CM Vasundhara Raje wishes to change this in the ensuing assembly polls and has been campaigning aggressively to win the elections. However, Congress too isn’t far behind and has been putting its full strength to form the government in the state. With few months left for the Lok Sabha polls, Rajasthan elections hold great importance for both the parties.
Since 1998, the BJP and Congress have been in power alternatively. This time the situation is not favourable for the BJP, which has performed exceptionally well in 2013. In the 2013 elections, BJP won 163 of the 200 assembly seats. BJP got 46.05% of the votes in this election. This was the best performance by any party in the electoral history of Rajasthan, but the BJP could not maintain its performance in the 2017 by-elections.
In the by-elections held in February 2017, the BJP suffered a big defeat. It lost in two Lok Sabha constituencies, Alwar and Ajmer and one assembly seat in Manalgarh to Congress. The defeat marks the declining popularity of Vasundhara Raje coupled with growing factionalism within the party. Taking lessons from this defeat, the BJP has made few organisational changes. Firstly, the state president changed, and the National People’s Party (NPP) leader and MLA Kirodi Lal Meena was included in the party. Meena has a good hold in the Scheduled Tribes community of eastern Rajasthan. Meena had separated from the BJP in 2008 and became an MLA in 2013 on the NPP ticket.
Congress’ performance in the by-elections has certainly boosted their morale. Under the leadership of Sachin Pilot, who would also be contesting the Assembly elections for the first time, the Congress workers are charged with the newly-found enthusiasm and hope. Soon after their victory in the by-polls, the Congress got involved in electoral strategy and started the ‘My booth, my pride’ program to activate and unite Congress workers in the district. However, Congress has its trouble with enthusiasm. While the party’s state president Sachin Pilot and former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot may say that the party is united, the party here is also a victim of internal factionalism. Pilot and Gehlot have their own factions, and both are in the race for the post of CM. BJP president Amit Shah tweeted this at Sawai Madhopur saying that the Congress has neither the leader nor the policy.
Shah is continuously touring the state to sharpen the election preparations in Rajasthan. He has visited the state more than five times by October and has met the booth-level workers. However, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has also been aggressively campaigning in the state and targeting Raje’s government on multiple issues. Gandhi has tried to convince the party workers that the state leadership is united and is challenging the BJP. Congress expects that this time the people will give it a chance as per tradition which in turn will carry its victory campaign forward.
At the same time, CM Vasundhara Raje has installed her full strength to change the state’s electoral history. She has visited the entire state in the last two months. Under her ‘Rajasthan Gaurav Yatra’, she held meetings with the people and told them her government’s achievements and schemes of public interest. Raje hopes that the schemes introduced by the state government like Bhamashah Health Insurance Scheme, Skilled Development, Annapurna Bhandar, distribution of scooters for girls, and claims of giving employment to 1.5 lakh people will convince voters to choose BJP again.
Congress has challenged this visit of Raje in its ‘Sankalp Yatra’. Three of the Congress leaders – Sachin Pilot, Ashok Gehlot and CP Joshi – have alleged that Raje didn’t fulfil her 2013 pre-election promises. Congress claims that if it comes to power this time, then it will give a good rule to the state. Instead of making a personal attack on BJP in their rallies, Congress is attacking the government’s failures.
Polls for 200 assembly seats will be held in the state on December 7, 2018. While the state is witnessing vigorous campaigning from both the national parties, it remains to be seen who gets the mandate to form the government.