“Unlocking the Political Chessboard: Rajasthan’s Electoral Saga”

The Political Chessboard in Rajasthan: Vasundhara Raje Story – The Jaipur Dialogues

The political landscape in the arid expanse is heating up as the ballots for 12 constituencies are slated for Phase 1 of the Lok Sabha election. While the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), spearheaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), eyes a third consecutive victory, mirroring its triumphs in 2014 and 2019, the Congress aims to break the winning streak. Surveys by C-Voter and CNX indicate a resurgence for the BJP in 2024, forecasting a sweeping victory, with Polstrat allotting 19 seats to the incumbent party.

In both the 2014 and 2019 elections, the BJP maintained a substantial lead of 25 percentage points over the Congress. Despite this, the Congress performed admirably in the recent state assembly elections, trailing by a mere two percentage points in terms of vote share. Buoyed by this performance, the BJP is eager to carry forward the momentum into the forthcoming general elections.

Here’s a breakdown of the key dynamics at play in Rajasthan:

Hanuman Beniwal’s Exodus from NDA to INDIA Hanuman Beniwal, a prominent Jat leader representing the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, who previously allied with the BJP and secured victory from Nagaur in 2019, has now aligned with the Congress. Jats, constituting approximately 12% of the population, wield considerable influence. In the 2019 elections, 85% of Jats supported the NDA, a significant surge from 38% in 2014, attributed to the alliance with the RLP and the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, this support dwindled to 42% in the 2023 assembly elections. The Congress is banking on farmer discontent and its alliance with Beniwal to sway Jat voters towards its fold, potentially denting the BJP’s electoral prospects, particularly in the Shekhawati and Marwar regions.

Rajput Resentment Haunting BJP A contentious statement by Union Minister Parshottam Rupala in Gujarat has ignited protests that have spilled over to Rajasthan. Over 60% of the upper caste electorate, including Brahmins and Rajputs, traditionally favored the BJP in the past two Lok Sabha polls. Despite Rupala retracting his remarks and issuing a public apology, simmering discontent persists within the Rajput community. Rajputs in Rajasthan demand the BJP to withdraw Rupala from the electoral fray in Rajkot, linking the statement to disparaging their valor and contributions to the nation. Concurrently, the ascension of independent candidate Ravindra Singh Bhati in Barmer is being viewed as a “Rajput rebellion.”

Coalition Conundrum for Congress The Congress has fielded candidates in 22 constituencies and has forged alliances with its INDIA bloc partners: the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) in Sikar, the RLP in Nagaur, and the newly-formed Bharatiya Adivasi Party (BAP) in the tribal-dominated Banswara constituency. Scheduled Tribes account for 13% of Rajasthan’s populace. Although traditionally aligned with the Congress, the BJP made significant inroads within the tribal community in 2019, garnering 58% of their support. However, in the 2023 assembly polls, the Congress regained ground, securing 51% of the tribal vote compared to the BJP’s 29%.

The Congress faces rebellion in Banswara, where despite reaching an accord with the BAP and assigning the party symbol to Arvind Damor, the official Congress nominee has refused to withdraw his nomination, defying directives from the state Congress committee. The party’s failure to take punitive action against him has engendered confusion, potentially splintering the Scheduled Tribe vote and inadvertently aiding the BJP.

Internal Dissension within the BJP The BJP’s decision to drop 10 incumbent MPs has triggered discontent within the party ranks. Leaders like Rahul Kaswan and Prahlad Gunjal, aggrieved by the denial of tickets from Churu and Kota respectively, have defected to the Congress. Kaswan, a prominent Jat leader with a substantial following among Rajasthan’s agrarian community, is the son of Ram Singh Kaswan, a three-time victor of the Churu seat between 1999 and 2009. Kaswan vows to fracture the Jat vote.

The Modi Phenomenon and the Peril of Saturation The BJP confronts the specter of reaching its zenith in Rajasthan, with the law of averages looming large. The party pins its hopes on the enduring appeal of Narendra Modi, which remains potent in the state. In the 2019 national elections, while one in every three voters (32%) across the nation voted for the BJP owing to PM Modi, in Rajasthan, the figure surged to one in every two voters (49%).

Can the Congress Engineer a Renaissance? The Congress endeavors to court the Gujjar community, a staunch BJP bastion in 2019. With Sachin Pilot reemerging on the political landscape, securing Gujjar support in central (Jaipur) and eastern Rajasthan assumes paramount significance for the party’s resurgence. In the preceding state elections, 43% of Gujjars sided with the BJP, while 39% threw their weight behind the Congress.

The Congress staged a commendable performance in 2023, averting a complete rout. Naturally, it aspires to leave a lasting impression this time around. However, the absence of key figures like Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot from the electoral fray this year may pose challenges for the party’s electoral fortunes.

(Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author)

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