Battling with internal turmoil and external pressure, the upcoming assembly elections will provide a preface to the performance of the Indian National Congress (INC) in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. From Pilot versus Gehlot, the Modi factor, and various other unfavourable factors, it remains to be seen whether the INC can retain its footprint in Rajasthan. In light of this, Polstrat analyses the results of the previous elections, the predictions for the upcoming assembly elections, and the realities from the ground.
Story so far
In the 2013 assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was victorious by an overwhelming margin, winning 163 seats over INC’s 21, with a vote share margin of around 12%, or 37,34,509 votes. This victory was flipped in 2018 when INC came back and won 100 seats over BJP’s 73, although by the skin of their teeth with a margin of 0.6%. As CM Ashok Gehlot’s term draws to a close, 24% respondents of a survey conducted by CVoter confirmed that they were not satisfied with the current state government at all, whereas 36% showed moderate satisfaction with it.
However, as per the IANS-Polstrat Opinion Poll 2023, the Congress is projected to retain power in Rajasthan with a tally of 97 to 105 seats, close to its current strength of 100 in the Assembly, while grabbing a projected 41% of the vote share. The BJP is estimated to get 89 to 97 seats with a 40% vote share.
The situation at hand
There is no doubt that INC in Rajasthan is undergoing internal conflict for quite some time now. Groupism between the camps of Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot has been at an all time high, however the ground reports collected by Polstrat show that if candidates supported by Sachin Pilot do not get tickets, the groupism is at risk of increasing further, which would harm the INC immensely. Additionally, Congress is conducting an internal survey, which hints that the performance of 11 ministers has been found as good, and that there is noticeable resentment towards 22 of its MLAs.
BJP is not immune to groupism either, as there is some escalating buzz around Vasundhara Raje, the former CM, who is seen as the main competitor against Gehlot in Rajasthan. BJP not giving due importance to Vasundhara Raje is harming the party and is discouraging the party workers. Ground reports show that a survey is being conducted by BJP which would decide ticket distribution, although it is being seen as an expression of mistrust towards the party workers and cadre. There have been reports of uproar within the BJP due to the ticket distribution with 5 disgruntled ticket seekers voicing their dissatisfaction against it.
The Mahila factor
It is being observed that PM Modi’s Mahila Yojana (MY) factor is effective, and that BJP has significant support from women. While declaring welfare schemes, such as Ujjwala Yojana, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Sukanya Yojana, Narendra Modi seems to be connecting with women, and it is believed that women who are backward, Dalit and Adiwasi have positive views on Modi. This has been furthered by the Women Reservation that is being brought into effect, which would ensure 33% reservation in the legislature, assembly and parliamentary, along with the Gram Panchayats which already exist.
That being said, Vasundhara Raje is a prime factor in deciding the BJP’s path in Rajasthan. Ground reports have clarified two things, that PM Modi is extremely popular, and that Vasundhara Raje is the biggest face of BJP in Rajasthan. According to party workers, not giving her due importance would harm the party, since other big leaders have insufficient hold outside their respective areas in the state. The BJP still continues to lead the campaign without announcing a CM candidate and keeping the PM’s image and schemes in the vanguard.
Contentions against Gehlot government
CM Ashok Gehlot is struggling to keep a clean image as the elections approach, with corruption being the most important issue stacked against him. Many of his close aides and MLAs are involved in mining mafias, and who are directly responsible for recommending the postings of important bureaucrats in their respective areas such as District Magistrate, Superintendent of Police, Station House Officers and Patwaris. This can be the driving factor for BJP to unload a barrage of aggression while campaigning.
The INC also shied away from announcing the CM candidate for Rajasthan with senior leaders commenting that the legislators would decide their own CM post elections in tandem with the party functionaries. Although CM Ashok Gehlot has indirectly called himself the CM face multiple times in media interactions, setting the ground for a tumultuous internal fight within the INC.
The allegations against him are not only coming from the opposition but also from his own party leadership, Sachin Pilot, who accused the Gehlot government of corruption in the Rajasthan Eligibility Exams for teachers. He also demanded that the Rajasthan Lok Sewa Aayog be dismantled. As many as 14 cases of paper leaks in competitive exams under the Gehlot government have been underway, in which 27 lakh youth appeared. This would surely remain in the minds of young voters in the upcoming elections, which can be exploited by the BJP.
17 new districts have been announced, for which demarcation has not been initiated. This has caused confusion among the voters as to which district they belong to. Ashok Gehlot’s tactic of yielding electoral advantage through registration in dearness relief camps has been termed as a freebie scheme and an election gimmick, which can be cashed in by the BJP.
Where BJP can cash in
Alliance and fielding the best candidates can be the golden ticket for BJP to regain Rajasthan. According to ground reports, tickets need to be given to new and deserving candidates, of which 33–40% need to be women in reserved seats. Rajasthan has 59 reserved seats, 34 for SC and 25 for ST. Out of this, in 2018, BJP obtained 21 while congress won 31. On all of these seats, there are a selection of families that dominate, which can be identified by the BJP and monetised. New faces and an increase in female representation by the BJP can increase their chances of snatching seats from INC.
Further, allying with the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) which has a sizable impact on the ST category can be ideal. In 2018, BTP contested on 11 seats and won 2 ST seats, came second in one seat and third in five seats. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) contested on 190 seats in 2018 and won a meagre 6, securing 4.16% votes. The MLAs in those that it won, all joined INC later on. As per the local assembly equation, Congress fields its candidates on BSP’s electoral symbol. BJP can use a similar tactic, wherein it fields candidates on a BTP ticket, and upon winning can join BJP.
To be community specific, Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) has a sizable influence among Jats in Rajasthan. In 2018, RLP contested 58 seats, won 3, and got 2.39% votes. To counter this, a fire-brand Jat woman candidate from a farmers family can challenge Hanuman Beniwal, according to our ground reports.
Lastly, the BJP and Modi can attack Gehlot by stating that his election gimmicks of transferring money to bank accounts are just that, and are misguiding people. These schemes are simply a way to lure attention, as when the Moral Code of Conduct of the ECI kicks in, the marketing for these schemes will be abandoned since they have not been provided for in the budget, or declared in the Rajasthan Assembly. Election publicity to be paid for by the exchequer is not a good look for INC.
Ashok Gehlot has been rallying urban and rural areas for the last six months on the government’s expense. He has declared schemes for nearly every section of society, along with cash being handed out, mobile phones being distributed and various other guarantees by the INC. However, these can be capitalised on by the BJP using aggressive campaigning against the very activities that the INC thinks are beneficial. In the end, Gehlot’s ship seems to be sinking, with no port to swim to in sight. Plugging holes in his ship, one promise of a scheme at a time, looks like a last ditch effort by him.
Congress’s Golden Ticket
Though the odds are stacked against INC, it has identified a silver lining, in posing as a united front in the upcoming elections. The INC state chief for Rajasthan, Govind Singh Dotasra, has recently brushed aside talks of fissures in the party, assuring that Congress will go into the electoral contest as a united front. He has also asserted that INC’s is far more prepared and united than the BJP, with candidates being finalised for almost all seats with full agreement among them. Further, he stated that any rifts between Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot have been resolved after intervention by the party high command, and that things have been rather cordial in the last 12 months. He also clarified that the paper leak issue is a national problem, and is not a new one, and that the Centre has not yet come up with any strict rule to curb paper leaks at the central level in the last ten years.
All in all, it remains to be seen whether the INC can come through with a win against these contentions, and if the BJP can regain its ground in Rajasthan. The fight for the 2023 Rajasthan Assembly elections will undoubtedly be a close one for both parties, with jabs and crosses being thrown all the way up till 25th November, when the elections will be conducted.
Yuvraaj Singh Rahal/ New Delhi
Contributing reports by Aan Mary Suresh, Researcher at Polstrat.
Infographics by the Graphic Design Team at Polstrat.
From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.