Price of ap­a­thy

FrontLine - - COVER STORY - BY T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

The BJP pays for its fail­ure to ad­dress the agrar­ian cri­sis and ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment in Ra­jasthan, where no party has won suc­ces­sive terms

since the 1998 elec­tion.

AFTER ITS VIR­TUAL DECIMATION IN THE 2013 As­sem­bly elec­tions, the Congress has bounced back to power in Ra­jasthan, its tally of 99 seats fall­ing just one short of a sim­ple ma­jor­ity in the 200-seat As­sem­bly. Elec­tions were held to 199 seats, vot­ing in the Ram­garh As­sem­bly seg­ment be­ing de­ferred fol­low­ing the death of a can­di­date. The Congress staked a claim to form the gov­ern­ment with the help of a seat won by its ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, and the sup­port of in­de­pen­dent leg­is­la­tors, a good num­ber of whom were Congress rebels.

The BJP’S 2013 tally of 163 seats shrank to 73 this time. Although its vote share was sev­eral per­cent­age points lower than what it got last time, it was still a re­spectable 38.8 per cent. The Congress’ was 39.3 per cent, up from 33 per cent in 2013. The Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party (BSP), which con­tested all 200 seats on its own, won six, dou­bling its 2013 tally, and se­cured 4 per cent of the vote share.

Among the three Hindi heart­land States where As­sem­bly elec­tions were held, it was only in Ra­jasthan that a change of guard was widely ex­pected, as the State has been throw­ing out the rul­ing dis­pen­sa­tion in every As­sem­bly elec­tion since 1998. Still, unseat­ing the Va­sund­hara Raje gov­ern­ment was a tough chal­lenge for the Congress, which in 2013 recorded its worst ever elec­toral per­for­mance in the State. The BJP wave in 2013, which saw the re­in­stal­la­tion of the party’s gov­ern­ments in neigh­bour­ing Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh, fol­lowed by the Naren­dra Modi wave in 2014 which re­sulted in a BJP gov­ern­ment at the Cen­tre, raised doubts about the anti-in­cum­bency pat­tern re­peat­ing it­self and kin­dled the BJP’S hopes of re­tain­ing power in Ra­jasthan in this elec­tion. The Congress knew it was up against a strong op­po­nent backed by Prime Min­is­ter Modi and BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah. Among the heavy­weights who cam­paigned for the party was Ut­tar Pradesh Chief Min­is­ter Yogi Adityanath. Modi held more ral­lies in Ra­jasthan than in any of the other four States that went to the polls. Ra­jasthan, per­haps, needed more at­ten­tion as it was per­ceived to be the BJP’S Achilles’ heel. The party’s de­feat de­spite its pha­lanx of star cam­paign­ers is per­haps in­dica­tive of a change of per­cep­tion to­wards it and its cen­tral lead­er­ship.

Un­like the BJP, which did not ef­fect a change in the State lead­er­ship after it lost to the Congress in 2008, the Congress opted for a dras­tic change of guard in its State lead­er­ship in 2013 and in­stalled the youth­ful Sachin Pi­lot as the pres­i­dent of the State unit. Ashok Gehlot, who had twice led the State unit to vic­tory, in 1998 and 2008, was put in charge of party af­fairs in Gu­jarat and moved to the Cen­tre. Pi­lot, a for­mer Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment and Union Min­is­ter who was part of the new team put to­gether by Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi, was given the dual re­spon­si­bil­ity of re­ju­ve­nat­ing the party and se­cur­ing de­ci­sive elec­toral vic­to­ries. Un­der his lead­er­ship, the party in 2017 won by­elec­tions to two Lok Sabha con­stituen­cies and one As­sem­bly seat, de­feat­ing the BJP with con­vinc­ing mar­gins. If these vic­to­ries al­lowed the Congress to hope that it would com­fort­ably touch the 130 mark in 2018, it was not able to cap­i­talise on its gains to quite that ex­tent.

The party was riven with in­fight­ing, pri­mar­ily be­tween the old guard and the new lead­er­ship. Not only did the in­fight­ing be­come com­mon knowl­edge within the

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