By Prarthana Mitra
Rajasthan is rooting for change in the upcoming high-stake polls, despite a strong campaign put up by incumbent Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and the ruling BJP government. Opinion polls suggested a split vote discrepancy where local farmers wanted Congress in the state but a Narendra Modi-led NDA alliance at the centre. Another set of data shows that the BJP would lose if only 8% of the voters change sides.
With the state going to vote in their Assembly representatives on December 7, here is a primer on what’s at stake and who are the notable candidates from each side.
Candidates and trends
As many as 2,274 candidates are contesting from 199 constituencies in the state, with candidates fielded by the BJP, Congress, BSP, AAP and other regional parties. Since 1993, no party has been able to retain power in the state with the Congress and BJP coming to power alternatively every five years. In 2013, the BJP got 163 seats in the 200-member Assembly, leaving the Congress far behind at just 21 seats. BJP won with 45% of the votes while Congress was able to hold on to only 33% of their base.
Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot were fielded by the opposition Congress, to pose the biggest challenge to outgoing CM Vasundhara Raje. In Tonk, Rajasthan Transport Minister and BJP candidate Yoonus Khan is in the contest. Khan is the only Muslim candidate fielded by the party.
Poll projections show that Congress has a good chance of reclaiming the state before the Lok Sabha polls next year.
Raje is contesting from her Jhalrapatan constituency, facing BJP veteran Jaswant Singh’s son Manvendra Singh who has defected to the Congress. She is BJP’s chief ministerial nominee again, despite repeated by-election losses. In the three by-polls held in February this year, a stunning 17% decline in BJP’s vote share was recorded. Panchayat and municipal elections, too, saw Congress gaining at the expense of BJP. The current unpopularity of the state’s BJP unit makes a swing in the favour of Congress very likely.
Meanwhile, Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal has become a concern for both the parties, after founding the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party and fielding 58 candidates. He is eyeing the Jat vote in Shekhawati and Marwar regions and has used a helicopter to address more than 15 election rallies.
Campaign for high-stake polls
The state witnessed hundreds of high-decibel road shows and election rallies throughout the length and breadth of the state over the past few months, with both sides making vocal promises about corruption, farmers’ issues amid rousing calls for nationalism. The dissatisfaction mostly stems from low and unremunerative prices for farmers’ produce, raging unemployment in the state, exploitation of workers with stagnant wages and a lack of labour law protections. While BJP focused on Congress’ dynastic stranglehold, the latter brought up casteist politics and the Rafale controversy during their campaigns.
PM Modi, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and several other Union ministers campaigned in the state, as did Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati also campaigned last month.
Campaign period came to an end late Wednesday as the state began to prepare for the polls. “Election campaign ended at 5 pm today. Polling will take place from 8 am to 5 pm on December 7 in 199 constituencies,” Rajasthan’s chief electoral officer Anand Kumar said. He added that elaborate security arrangements have been made for free and fair polls.
Seats at stake
The contest is mainly between the BJP and the Congress candidates in about 130 seats. The election in Alwar’ Ramgarh constituency has been postponed after the death of the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate.
Last month, 23 thwarted hopefuls from BJP and Congress turned into rebels, vowing to contest as independents after violent protests broke out in Bikaner in support of Brahmin leader and former state minister BD Kalla, who was denied a running ticket. About 50 seats will witness contests in which these rebel candidates are in the fray.
Counting of votes will take place on December 11. Rajasthan marks the finale for this phase of assembly polls. Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh have already voted in their local body representatives over the last month.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.