Congress faces anti-incumbency against MLAs, BJP stares at disorder in house in Rajasthan
There’s no wind blowing for or against the ruling Congress and its principal opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Barmer/Jaisalmer/Jodhpur: The air’s still in Rajasthan. There’s no wind blowing for or against the ruling Congress and its principal opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the desert state up for elections by the year end.
This early dip-test from Barmer-Jaisalmer where Ashok Gehlot’s party bagged eight out of the nine assembly seats in the 2018 polls might be a confirmation of lack of tangible anti-incumbency against his government. What actually should worry the third time chief minister is that the spigot he turned on a year ago to rain bounties on the electorate hasn’t built for the Congress a “beneficiary class” of the kind the BJP has in Uttar Pradesh.
Some of Gehlot’s schemes such as free mobile phones for elderly women and girl students have indeed created a buzz. But that’s about it. At Barmer, there were complaints at a distribution centre of short supply of handsets. A gaggle of girls there appeared happy receiving the phones for themselves or their grannies, as elderly women in the family aren’t adept at using the device. The school-going among them hoped to put the phones to good use for attending online classes.
Water-power scarcity hurting the Congress
Goodies apart, a major gripe in these districts is of deficient water and power supply. “The voltage is inadequate to run water pumps on farmland,” bemoaned Sudhir, a menial worker at a local hotel. His family’s peanut crop got burnt under the sun this season for want of water.
Good schemes can backfire for want of efficient execution. That apparently is the case with Gehlot’s much hyped anti-inflation “mehngai rahat” camps in certain pockets. The separate registration mandated for each of the many schemes such as accessing cheap cooking gas, free 100 units of power and subsidy on seeds, is the ‘bureaucratic red-tape’ that leaves the beneficiaries pinioned. The evidence consequently is scarce of a “labharthi (beneficiary)” constituency Gehlot had set out to create to retain power in the state habituated to changing incumbent regimes.
Vox pop against sitting legislators
If vox pop gathered in Jaisalmer, Barmer and Jodhpur is any guide, the ruling Congress is hamstrung by strong anti-incumbency against its sitting legislators, if not the government on the whole. In seeking to keep the MLAs on his side in a fractious legislature party, the CM might have ended up annoying the electorate who are at the receiving end of their elected representatives’ shenanigans bordering on greed.
A strong aspirant to the CM’s office, Sachin Pilot has reportedly buried, or so the party claims, the hatchet with Gehlot. But the aftershocks of his 2020 rebellion that had the Congress regime tottering on the brink haven’t entirely dissipated. “Ashokji needed to show numbers to remain in office against Sachin’s challenge,” recalled a party insider. “That forced his hands to allow the MLAs a free rein for staying loyal to him.”
The chickens expectedly have since come home to roost. “We’d have to change candidates in at least half of the 200 assembly seats including those we lost,” remarked a Congress functionary unwilling to be quoted. In the 2018 elections, the Congress had won 100 seats and the BJP 73. A master tactician that he is, Gehlot increased his tally in the hung House by wooing Independents and poaching the Bahujan Samaj Party’s legislators.
In a repeat of its Karnataka model, the party has conducted a series of internal surveys to zero in on ‘best candidates’ in its stable. “Pulls and pressures may still come into play,” said a Congress leader the party recently approached with a short list of seats from where he could be fielded. He believed the leadership’s choice of candidatures would broadly be driven by inputs from the ground.
BJP’s disorderly house
If the Congress has dissensions within, the BJP also isn’t in the pink of health. In the previous polls, a disaffected party group had gone for Raje’s jugular with the slogan: Modi tujhse bair nahin, Vasundhara teri khair nahi (We’ve no ill-will against the PM but wouldn’t let the CM go punished). The strategy boomeranged in the assembly polls but Narendra Modi’s magic worked in the 2019 Lok Sabha battle a few months later.
In some ways, history might get repeated in the BJP camp where Raje, arguably its most popular face in Rajasthan, is sought to be sidelined. The BJP central leadership’s patronage apparently is for a caste-quartet of sitting MPs: Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla (Bania, Kota) besides union ministers Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (Rajput, Jodhpur), Arjun Meghwal (SC, Bikaner) and Kailash Chaudhary (Jat, Barmer). Even the recently appointed state BJP chief, CP Joshi, a Brahmin, is considered close to Birla whom many have come to view as a prospect for the CM’s office.
Regardless of what the party top brass believes or wants, the Raje factor is too strong to be ignored or wished away. A BJP MP prophesied: “right now, I put both parties at 100 each. If we project Vasundhara ji, it’ll be 130 against the Congress’s 70. Or else the tally could reverse.” He cited in support of his argument the less than encouraging turnouts at the party’s “parivartan sankalp yatras” in the state.
A safer assumption however would be that the voter is silent, keeping his cards close to the chest. He’s watching on which side of the fence comes down the camel: Uunth kis karvat baithta hai.