At first glance, the Rajasthan assembly polls on December 4 seem a keen, straight contest between the BJP and the Congress, just as every assembly polls in the state have been since 1993. A closer look, however, shows that, unlike in past elections, both the principal antagonists will have to be wary of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which will play a much bigger role in this election than it has ever done in the state before.
What adds further twists to the poll tale is that both the BJP and the Congress are beset with dissensions, factional wars, revolts and poor selection of candidates in some constituencies.
The BJP’s traditional bastion is the Hadauti region - Kota and Bundi, where the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has a strong base. It was initially considered weak in the west and the tribal areas, but in the 2003 assembly elections it stormed these areas too, winning a record 120 seats in the state. Even in its traditional tribal stronghold of southern Rajasthan, the Congress could win only seven of 37 seats.
The BSP will damage the Congress and BJP primarily in the eastern districts, where it is the strongest. “We are aiming at unsettling both the BJP and the Congress. We will emerge kingmakers,” Dungarram Gedar, BSP state president said.
But grounds reports suggested that the Congress, which has traditionally banked on Dalit votes a great deal, is likely to suffer more.
Dissensions within are also affecting the prospects of both the BJP and the Congress. The Congress saw senior leader Paras Ram Maderna revolt over what he called a disproportionately large number of party tickets being given to supporters of former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, while his own men were ignored. And the BJP was acutely embarrassed when Vishvendra Singh, MP from Bharatpur, quit and joined the Congress, also because his men were not given party tickets. Since both are Jats, and both wield considerable influence - albeit in different parts of the state - the Jat vote is likely to scatter considerably this time.
Cabinet minister Kirori Lal Meena’s revolt is likely to cost the BJP Meena votes, but this may be neutralised by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje's dogged refusal to grant Scheduled Tribe status to the Gujjar community.
The litany of accusations by the Opposition and rebuttals by the government are on in earnest.
“Vasundhara Raje is even taking credit for the successful implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the state. Raje is living in a fool’s paradise. Every villager knows the Union government is financing the NREGS,” a senior Congress leader said.