Apart from internal rifts, the erosion of its traditional vote base in rural areas will pose a stiff challenge for the Congress which is hoping for a good performance in the three-phase panchayat polls after a string of election losses. The polling for the first phase will take place on January 16.
In the last panchayat polls in 2010, the Congress won 24 of 33 zila parishads and 159 of 248 panchayat samitis. The Congress then had a vote share of 46.37% as compared to the BJP’s 40.93%.
The Congress did sub-stantially well in areas like Barmer, Banswara, Bharatpur, Bhilwara, Churu, Dausa, Dholpur, Jhunjhunu, Jodhpur, Karauli, Nagaur, Pali, Sikar and Udaipur which have large rural and Muslim populations, while the BJP only managed better results in Ajmer, Chittor, Jaipur, Jhalawar, Kota and Pratapgarh.
In the 2013 assembly elections, the BJP’s vote share was 46.05% against the Congress’s 33.71%. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 55.61% votes as compared to 30.72% by the Congress.
A senior Congress leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the situation since the last panchayat polls has changed for the worse for his party.
“Under the previous Congress government, the arrest of Jat leader Mahipal Maderna and Bishnoi leader Malkhan Singh Bishnoi angered the two communities in Mewar while removal of Bhanwarlal Meghwal upset the Meghwals. This alienated the communities from the Congress,” he said, adding that the Muslims who are seen as staunch Congress supporters got miffed after several incidents of communal violence.
The Congress leader said the overall administration under former CM Ashok Gehlot suffered.
“The government was seen as weak and not delivering on promises, so this created an anti-Congress mood which was reflected in election results.”
After successive routs in the assembly, Lok Sabha and civic body polls, the party is still struggling to find its footing. Even as Congress president Sachin Pilot is undertaking tours across the state and taking on the government on issues of corruption, lawlessness and nonperformance, leaders say more involvement at the ground level and a more detailed strategy is required to put up a strong fight.
Meanwhile, chief minister Vasundhara Raje wants to ensure a win that will strengthen not only her party but also her standing within the party and the state and put to rest rumours about her being replaced, said a BJP leader.
Unlike the Congress, the BJP has once again applied its micro management strategy.
Congress secretary Danish Abrar says the party will be able to encash the anger against the BJP. “People see the government as corrupt and incompetent. Growing lawlessness and antipoor image will hurt the BJP in rural areas.”