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Moving towards Single-party Dominance in Rajasthan

Sanjay Lodha (sanjay.kishti@gmail.com) teaches political science at the Mohanlal Sukhadia University, Udaipur. Nidhi Jain (nidhiseth.6@gmail.com) is state supervisor for Rajasthan, Lokniti Network.

The recent sweep by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha elections from Rajasthan is located in the wider context of the electoral politics of the state. A party that was voted out of power six months ago is given a clear mandate in the national elections and this interesting trend is the focus of this analysis. Drawing data from the National Election Study survey, the factors and forces that contributed to
the Lok Sabha election results in the state are examined.

Since the last decade of the 20th century, the nature of political competition in Rajasthan has been a two-party system with the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being the principal contestants. However, if one studies the outcome of all the elections held so far in the 21st century, a different picture emerges. In all the four state assembly elections held since 2003, out of the 800 seats (Rajasthan has 200 elected members), the BJP has won as many as 434 (54.25%), the INC has secured 273 (34%) and the remaining 93 seats have been pocketed by a host of other political parties. While this gap of 20% between the BJP and the INC is considerable, the picture changes once we move from the state assembly aggregates to the Lok Sabha elections (Table 1). In the four Lok Sabha elections held from 2004 up to 2019, the gap is a massive 51% with the BJP securing 75 out of the 100 seats and the INC left with just 24. In all these elections put together, the BJP has secured nearly 45% of the votes polled and the Congress has got just a little over 37% (Table 1). This article, therefore, argues that like Gujarat, though INC and the BJP continue to be the two main political parties in Rajasthan, the system is moving towards the domination of one party, that is, the BJP.

 

The outcome of the assembly election in 2018 vindicated the regular oscillation trend between the two major parties, but the INC victory was a much subdued one. Organisational and leadership bottlenecks deprived the party of a more emphatic win. The BJP was defeated but not disgraced. As the Lok Sabha elections approached, there was a perception that the other major trend would also come true enabling the INC to stage a comeback after its ignominious defeat in 2014. What gave a boost to this perception was the fact that as per the Vidhan Sabha election result, the Congress led the BJP in 14 of the 25 Lok Sabha constituencies.

Not Seizing the Moment

Once the Congress mounted the saddle in the state in December 2018, it was expected that the party would rise above the bickering and infighting of the assembly elections and unite to take the BJP head on for the general elections. However, almost one crucial month was lost in deciding who would be the chief minister and in forming the cabinet. Both Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot kept rushing to the high command in Delhi to resolve their petty squabbles. This adversely affected governance in the state. Anticipating the enforcement of electoral code of conduct, the transfer of nearly a thousand government officials created an indecisive atmosphere within the state bureaucracy. However, with the Lok Sabha election in sight, the leaders sought to bury their differences. In a short span of time, the state government took a number of decisions, including waiver of farmers’ loan, unemployment allowance to youth, revival of medical welfare schemes, relaxing eligibility rules relating to local self-government elections and promising drinking water during summer months.

One could discern a sense of urgency on the part of the chief minister. But in hindsight we can say it was too little and too late. Before the benefits of the declared schemes could reach the target population, the Lok Sabha elections were declared. The Congress had held back many of its senior leaders from the state council of ministers hoping that they would be given party tickets for the Lok Sabha election. But as discussions for finalising the list of candidates started, many of the senior leaders showed a disinclination to contest. This forced the party to field candidates who appeared to be very weak. Out of the 25 candidates, only three were repeated from the 2014 election panel; the rest all were new faces. The party also appeared to be disinterested in forging any alliance with other forces like the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) in the state’s western Jat strongholds, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the eastern part dominated by Dalits and the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) in the Scheduled Tribe (ST)-dominated south Rajasthan.

On the other hand, the BJP strategised well keeping “Mission 25” in sight. It was a conscious decision to keep the vanquished Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje away from the state by “promoting” her as one of the national vice presidents of the party. This was followed by the start of the social engineering. To woo the tribals, it gave Rajya Sabha membership to Kirori Lal Meena. The party also lured the popular Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla to its fold. But the trump card was the alliance with the Jat peasant leader Hanuman Beniwal of the RLP. Through these alliances, the BJP fortified those areas where it fared badly in the assembly elections. Further, the party ticket was denied to nine of the sitting members of Parliament (MPs). All these initiatives galvanised the spirits of the much- entrenched party machinery.

Focused campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah during the summer heat stalled any possibility of a Congress tide in the state. Not that the Congress did not work hard. In the initial period, the party appeared to be doing well as the leadership emphasised the minimum income guarantee programme and other issues mentioned in its manifesto and also aggressively attacking the failures of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government to generate an anti-incumbency sentiment. But as the campaign picked up, the INC seemed to lose the plot. It had no concrete counter to the relentless focus on issues of national security and polarising the Hindutva agenda of the Prime Minister and other senior leaders of the BJP. Thereafter, it only reacted to the agenda set by Modi. Consequently, the real issues of election fell aside and the campaigning from both sides became increasingly vituperative and bitter.

Electoral Outcome

The overwhelming mandate that the BJP has achieved in Rajasthan is in fact an unprecedented repeat performance of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when the party won all the 25 seats in the state. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections while attaining the “Mission 25” milestone, the BJP led in as many as 184 of the 200 assembly constituencies. In 2019, this number stands at 185 emphasising the mind-boggling nature of the BJP victory in light of the changing political equations. Compared to 2014 polls, the BJP increased its victory margin in 21 of the 25 seats.

To explain the incredible BJP triumph, a few questions need to be addressed. Did the BJP win unexpectedly? Which are the factors that resulted in the party’s victory? And the final question is what changes took place in the social support profile of the main political players? First, the BJP did not win unexpectedly. Even during the different rounds of pre-poll surveys conducted by the Lokniti–Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) during the state assembly elections in the months of October–November 2018, the pro-incumbency sentiment for the BJP-led NDA government was visible. When the respondents were asked about their voting preference for the Lok Sabha elections, the gap between BJP and the INC widened from 5% in October to 9% in November 2018. The strong anti-incumbency wave against the Vasundhara Raje-led state government did not affect the positive inclination for Modi-led union government. There was a clear indication that the voters of the state would cast their votes differently for the two level of elections.

In the reckoning of the people of the state, Modi was far ahead of Rahul Gandhi as the most liked leader. The levels of satisfaction with the central government were very high. And this perception existed much before the Pulwama–Balakot incidents which happened towards the end of February 2019. Post Pulwama and the “surgical” air strikes, the pro-incumbency atmosphere got further strengthened. In the Lok Sabha pre-poll survey conducted by Lokniti–CSDS during March 2019, an overwhelming majority of the respondents felt that another chance should be given to the BJP-led NDA government. Similarly, satisfaction levels with the government, the Prime Minister and also the sitting MPs were found to be very high. In the post-poll survey held after both rounds of polling, this trend persisted in a sharper way as the gap between Modi and Rahul Gandhi as the choice for the next Prime Minister reached an all-time high of 34%.

What was unexpected was the extent of the win. This leads us to the second question posed above as to which factors led to the remarkable triumph of the BJP. What could be cited as the first and
the foremost reason was the presence of a strong pro-incumbency sentiment amongst the voters reflected in the high level of satisfaction (Table 2, p 14).

More than half the respondents in the state observed that the country is going in “the right direction” and nearly half of them felt that “development had taken place not only for the rich but for all.” In the assembly pre-poll survey nearly two-thirds said that demonetisation was a right decision. More than one-fourth respondents observed that the promise of “Achhe Din” (good days) made during the 2014 elections had “fully succeeded” and one-third expressed that it had been a partial success. All efforts made by the INC to weave together an anti-incumbency sentiment based on economic hardships of the common people and agrarian distress failed to attract the voters. Further reaffirmation of this trend was found during the post-poll survey. It is interesting to see here that people’s faith in the Modi government persisted in spite of reported economic hardships. Overlooking bread and butter issues, the people voted for the BJP.

The seeming “blind faith” in the BJP-led NDA government is also a function of the growing majoritarian ground in Indian politics. Rajasthan is no exception to this. During the December assembly election, issues like cow protection, Ayodhya and even mob lynching were pointed out as very important ones. In the Lok Sabha post-poll survey, nearly one-third of the respondents justified the demolition of Babri Masjid and four of every 10 respondents said that only a temple needs to be built at the disputed site. A growing number of people opposed any special treatment to minorities, especially Muslims and Christians. More than one-fourth of the respondents agreed with the statement that “India belongs only to the Hindus.” The BJP reaped the benefits of this pro-Hindutva phenomenon.

In this context, the Pulwama attack on the Central Reserve Police Force convoy and the retaliatory Balakot surgical strike by the Indian Air Force came as a great opportunity for the Modi team to build up a nationalist frenzy during the poll campaign. Both the pre- and post-poll surveys reflected extremely high awareness about the Pulwama terrorist attack and the Balakot strike. This affected voting preferences distinctly. Disregarding the fact that the surgical strike was a decision of the Air Force, nearly 17% of the respondents credited the Modi government for the air strike, while 90% of these voted for the BJP. More than two-thirds of those who said that the credit should go to the Air Force voted for the INC. These two incidents consolidated the edge which was already prevailing in the state leading to the emphatic BJP victory.

In our explanation of the BJP win, we have so far discussed the message but not the man who made it possible. Modi was the principal figure responsible for the BJP victory in 2014. Being the pivot of the government for five years, more than anybody else, the 2019 election was a litmus test of his leadership and performance. In the post-poll survey, a little over one-fifth of the respondents observed that if Modi had not been the prime ministerial candidate, they would have voted for some other party. However, the deep roots of the BJP in Rajasthan are explained by the response of more than a majority who said that they would have anyway voted for the BJP. The Modi phenomenon consolidated this bond. Of the three of every 10 respondents who said that, compared to party or candidate, the prime ministerial candidate is the most important consideration for them when voting, more than four-fifths voted for the BJP. Thus, Modi as the leader was able to deliver the message relating to his government’s performance in the most attractive fashion.

Now, we move to the final part of the explanation to get a sense of the social support profile of the major political contestants in the state. A close look at the post-poll survey data as given in Table 4 will help answer this question. On the education front, the INC was found to capture a sizeable amount of its support from those who had done school education, but among the non-literates and those who had attained higher education the BJP was ahead of its principal rival. The BJP has received almost equal support from the rich and the poor people, while the INC was marginally ahead of the BJP among the middle class. The BJP has once again received a whole-hearted support from the younger population between 18 years and 35 years of age. However, the support for the party among the middle age group was a little subdued compared to the young and the elderly (Table 3).

Among social groups, the BJP has traditionally done exceedingly well among the non-reserved social groups like Brahmins, Rajputs and the trading communities (Table 4). In fact, the party has recovered some of the ground among the “upper castes” which it had lost to the INC during the assembly elections. It has also drawn more support among the tribals. But the key to the BJP’s phenomenal success is the overwhelming support which the party has got from the Jats and Other Backward Classes, including the Gujjars. The INC has now come to depend more and more on the support of the Dalits and Muslims in the state. The phenomenal BJP victory is thus an outcome of the party’s forward march among the intermediate, backward and the tribal communities. Survey data also establishes that as these groups get more educated and progress economically, they tend to support BJP more than any other political player.

In Conclusion

The achievement of a consecutive double of “Mission 25” by the BJP in Rajasthan is phenomenal. There is no subregion in the state where the party is not entrenched now. Similarly, its social profile has also broadened considerably. The INC sees its social and geographical base shrink. The only consolation for it is that it is in power in the state. It has four years to improve its position and a seasoned leader to chart out a revival.

Updated On : 2nd Aug, 2019

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