The Congress, which only a few months ago had won 100 out of the 200 seats in the Rajasthan assembly, is facing some trouble in the state ahead of voting in the Lok Sabha polls. In December, the party returned to power in the state after suffering one of its worst defeats in the 2013 assembly polls, thanks mainly to current Rajasthan Chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot.
The Congress is now relying on the political acumen and mass appeal of the Gehlot-Pilot duo to see it through the problems that have arisen over the distribution of tickets for the general poll. There has been large scale opposition by party workers over the choice of candidates for 10-12 seats. Rajasthan has 25 parliamentary seats, all of which the BJP had won in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress had hoped to win 12-15 seats this time around—pre-poll bluster of winning all seats notwithstanding—but reality says otherwise. Te party is in a strong position in only about 7 seats, and even the satta market says the party will win only about 5-7 seats.
So just how did the situation get so out of hand for the Congress, which had mere months ago secured a thumping victory in Rajasthan?
The biggest issue is that the Congress was not able to find the right candidates. Most senior party leaders in the state chose the comfort of home and opted to contest in the assembly polls rather than wait for the Lok Sabha election. In fact, many have already become ministers or are in important positions. A senior Congress leader and minister in the Gehlot government on condition of anonymity said, “Wahan (Delhi) jaane main kya fayda hai? Congress ki government toh mushkil se banegi. Yahan to apni sarkar hai …maje hain.” (“What sense does it make to contest the Lok Sabha election? It will be tough for Congress to form a government at the Centre, but we are in a position of power in Rajasthan.”)
Given the scarcity of suitable candidates, the party had no choice but to offer tickets to others, some of whom aren’t very popular. The gravity of the situation is clear from the fact that five candidates who lost in the assembly polls have been offered tickets for the general election. Rafique Mandelia, who lost from the Churu assembly constituency, will contest from the Churu Lok Sabha constituency. Mandelia had also lost in the 2009 Lok Sabha election; Sharwan Kumar, who lost from the Surajgarh assembly constituency, has been offered ticket from Jhunjhunu Lok Sabha constituency ticket; Ratan Devasi, who lost from Raniwada assembly constituency, will contest the Lok Sabha poll from Jalore; Manvendra Singh and Raghubeer Meena are also seeking election.
Some of the Congress’s candidates are not popular and people don’t even know their names or recognise them. Jaipur candidate Jyoti Khandelwal and Nagaur candidate Jyoti Mirdha are facing strong opposition from party workers. Besides, Khandelwal’s TV sting, the authenticity of which is yet to be verified, has become a big problem for the party and the leaders simply don’t know how to deal with it.
It is now up to Gehlot and Pilot to pull the Congress out of its troubles in Rajsthan. He may be short on time, but Gehlot is hard at work, addressing rallies and conducting meetings daily. He is raising relevant issues that concern the common man. Gehlot is popular, and his political acumen was on full display in the Gujarat, Karnataka and Rajasthan assembly polls. Will he be able to work his magic and change the Congress’s fortunes in the Lok Sabha polls? We’ll know come May 23.
Anil Sharma is a senior journalist and political analyst.