Rajasthan goes to the polls on December 7. The state is a traditional BJP stronghold as shown in the 2013 assembly election results where the BJP cruised to victory winning more than 160 seats.A poll by C-Voter however is predicting a strong showing for the Congress with a projection of 145 seats in the 200 seat assembly. Both sides have taken the poll to mean different things for their fortunes in the state and are confident of victory. Facebook has taken steps to curb the spread of false news reports and misinformation ahead of the elections in the state. Shivnath Thukral, Facebook public policy director for India and South Asia said in part, “Through the improved artificial intelligence machines, thousands of pages, groups, and accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behaviour have already been removed”. This is in addition to working with political parties to ensure that their information is subject to hacking.
History Since 1993, the state has alternated between Congress and BJP rule every five years. The increasing distress among farmers which has resulted in many of them committing suicide coupled with increasing unemployment will pose the ruling BJP a challenge in keeping the state. The 2013 results for the BJP were the best the state had seen. However, in recent by-elections, the party has suffered losses in Alwar and Ajmer, along with Mandalgarh Assembly seat, to the Congress. It brought about some changes in the state ranks.Congress Polls have given Congress the edge in Rajasthan. However, Congress leader and possible chief ministerial candidate Sachin Pilot acknowledges the party is in a good place with regards to the state but isn’t being complacent. In an interview to Bloomberg he said in part, “I don’t take things lightly. We are well placed. We are within striking distance of forming the government but work still is to be done”. The high profile Congress leader is contesting from the Tonk constituency where the royal family there has extended their support to him. Aftab Ali Khan, the Nawab of Tonk extended his support to Pilot saying in part, “Pilot has represented Ajmer Lok Sabha constituency and he too understands Tonk well”. Political analyst Aman Jakhar, in a column for the Economic Times, writes on Pilot and the state – “Pilot’s rise has been facilitated due to several factors. One of the major reasons has been his continued term as the State Congress chief which has allowed him to build his own network of supports and loyalists”. The combination of former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Pilot is a good one for the Congress considering the void left due to the unpopularity of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. The Congress, if they play this right could do very well in the state. Capitalising on that unpopularity of the incumbent and other BJP candidates could prove decisive. This combined with a sentiment of anti-incumbency could prove to be the best chance for the Congress. As Jakhar continues in his column, these two have played their cards right so far - “…both Gehlot and Pilot have not concealed their Chief Ministerial ambitions; however, they have not allowed their political ambitions to come in the way of the Congress party’s potential victory in assembly elections. Both have smartly avoided any controversy…” BJP In Rajasthan, where the BJP currently is in power, an uphill task awaits them. Overcoming the unpopularity of Chief Minister Raje will be a tough one. The BJP however isn’t fretting, at least not in public. They’re confident of victory. There has been some friction between Raje and the BJP top brass including party chief Amit Shah. She got her way in terms of fielding candidates as the first list put out by the party consisted mostly of her confidantes. The list also includes candidates who lost in 2013. Some of those who didn’t get tickets have resigned and intend to run as independents. With a grim outlook in the state, the BJP’s star campaigner Modi will address a dozen election meetings in the state in the run up to election day. One point of concern for the party is the possible shift in Rajput loyalties. They comprise almost 12% of the state population and aren’t pleased with the party. They supported the Congress in the by-elections earlier this year. Raje’s second term as Chief Minister has been fraught when it came to the Rajputs. The Congress candidate Manvendra Singh was once a part of the BJP but quit over differences with Raje and is now contesting against her. This goes back to 2014 when Singh’s father Jaswant Singh was denied a ticket from his home district. In 2016, an alleged fake encounter angered the community and they protested against the government demanding a CBI probe. The BJP is hoping for a nationalist sentiment to prevail in the state as national BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi puts it – “The people of the State have closely identified with cultural pride and a strong nationalist sentiment, which is in sync with the BJP’s ideological position”. Third front & CPI (M) The CPI (M) is looking at the Congress as a rival in the state. They have fielded 28 candidates hoping to win three to five seats in the process. Currently, the party has no representation in the assembly; they did have 3 in the assembly from 2008-13. The main thrust for them is organising protests by farmers against non availability of insurance and power tariff hike. The unpopularity of Raje has also led to the emergence of other small parties and alliances which might not have much of an impact on the state. These mainly comprise of rebels who have left the BJP to go it alone. Hanuman Beniwal a former BJP leader, last month, launched the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP). He got the support from another former BJP leader Ghanshyam Tiwari and the Bharat Vahini Party (BVP). The two formed an alliance last month at a rally. Yashwant Deshmukh, founder director of CVoter International says the outcome in the state will depend on how each party employs its resources and the difference in perception of national leaders and state ones – “Rajasthan voters are extremely upset with the sitting Chief Minister but they don’t want to conflate it with their sentiments on the Prime Minister. And that makes Rajasthan complicated”.
More columns by Varun Sukumar
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