Price of apathy
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