Rajasthan assembly polls 2018: State’s revolving door trumps BJP as Congress poised to wrest control

Preserving its tradition of voting out the ruling party, Rajasthan appears to have rejected the incumbent BJP government in the elections held on December 7. The fates of Rajasthan’s 2,274 candidates, 189 of whom are women, were decided by the state’s 4.74 crore electorate, of which 74.21 per cent turned up to vote for their Vidhan Sabha representatives.

Snatching power from the Vasundhara Raje-led government, Congress leads with 103 seats in the 199 seat-strong assembly, with 3 seats more than the majority mark required to form the government. While their lead increased from the earlier dip of 92 seats, the BJP’s lead dipped to 71 seats after the first round of counting (at around 8 PM Tuesday). Congress has already claimed victory with the Congress Legislature Party meeting at 11 AM, and then again on Wednesday evening to decide who will be the next CM in Rajasthan. Rahul Gandhi is expected to take the final call on Wednesday on this matter.

Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot were seen partaking in celebration in Jaipur after registering key victories for the Congress. Pilot thanked the people and party members for their support and struggle, although it is not clear if Congress chief Rahul Gandhi will choose him as the state’s chief minister over senior Congress leader and rival Ashok Gehlot.

How BJP lost foothold

Exit polls had predicted that the desert state’s ‘revolving door’ anti-incumbency trend would enable Congress to come back to power, while the BJP claimed it will disrupt the tradition of having chief ministers of alternate parties for every assembly election since 1993. But BJP has lost more ground than was anticipated, possibly owing to widespread dissatisfaction with the party’s prioritisation of the Ram temple agenda over development. Several senior parliamentarians from the BJP have criticised the election strategy adopted by the party leadership.

The BJP has also suffered a number of defections from its ranks to the Congress causing a dent in its tribal vote bank. A significant turncoat includes Manvendra Singh, the son of former union minister and senior BJP leader, Jaswant Singh, who contested and lost against incumbent CM Vasundhara Raje. For the fourth time in a row, Raje retained her assembly seat of Jhalrapatan teeming with Muslim and Dalit voters. Fielding Singh who had quit the BJP, saying “Kamal ki phool, hamaari bhool” (Choosing the lotus was a mistake), was considered to have earned the Congress the sizable Rajput electorate which has traditionally voted for the BJP but has been increasingly growing disenchanted with the ruling party.

Choosing CM

The Congress is reportedly tasked with having to make the onerous choice of a chief ministerial candidate from rivals Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. Having given running tickets to both the rivals, the decision is between Congress’ old warhorse Gehlot who beat BJP’s Shambhu Singh in the Sardarpura seat and has the backing of Congress rebel Mahadev Khandela, and Pilot, who is a two-time parliamentarian, and emerged victorious in his first assembly election from Tonk against the BJP’s sole Muslim candidate in the state, Yoonus Khan (The Congress had fielded 15 Muslim candidates). Rajasthan Congress lawmakers will be meeting with Central Congress representatives on Wednesday to discuss and announce their pick.

The BJP’s strategy to hand over the ticket to Khan was to divide the 55,000-strong Muslim vote bank in the constituency. However, the win by Sachin Pilot has thwarted the BJP’s plan as people took a liking to Pilot, according to PTI.

“We won 21 seats last time. People were unhappy over the way they faced hardships. They were unhappy with the state government and the Central government,” Pilot was quoted as saying by IANS. “The roadmap we presented was appreciated and Rahul Gandhi campaigned energetically. Congress workers worked unitedly. I am grateful to people for their blessings,” he added.

“Even though we are certain we will have the numbers by ourselves, but I would like to reach out to other like-minded parties and leaders to form the government,” Pilot said at a press conference, but the post-poll alliance with BSP which won 5 seats did not work out.
“The mandate is against the BJP as they were arrogant,” Sachin Pilot said, adding, “There is an atmosphere of fear in the country. BJP is muzzling voices. This is not the kind of democracy we want.”

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

Ashok GehlotAssembly pollsBJPCongresselectionsRajasthanSachin PilotVasundara Raje