The results for the fifteenth state assembly elections are trickling in and it is evident that the Congress has recovered from its miserable performance in the 2013 election, when it could win just 21 seats. This time, the party appears to be headed for a clear majority. At the time of writing, the Congress has gained more than 5% votes, improving from 33.7% in 2013 to nearly 39% now. The BJP, on the other hand, has suffered a major defeat, losing more than half of the seats it held in 2013. Its vote share has come down from 46% in 2013 to about 38%t in the recent elections.
Many of the senior ministers in the Vasundhara Raje government have lost in their constituencies. To name just a few: Yunus Khan, Rajpal Singh Shekhawat, Prabhulal Saini, Shreechand Kriplani, Arun Chaturvedi, Gajendra Singh Khinvsar, Rao Rajendra Singh, Rajendra Singh Rathore and Kalicharan Saraf. The margin of victory for Raje herself has come down considerably. The other political parties which have made their presence felt are the Bahujan Samaj Party which is leading in 6 seats and the CPM in 2 seats. The newly constituted Rashtriya Loktantrik Party is leading in 4 places and the most surprising entrant to the elite club is the Bharatiya Tribal party which is leading in 2 seats in tribal dominated south Rajasthan.
The political parties which got completely marginalised in the state are the Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal and the Bharat Vahini Party of the dissident BJP leader Ghanshyam Tiwari. A number of Congress rebels have also won. Prominent among these are Sanyam Lodha, Mahadev Singh Khandela, Ramila Kadia, Khushveer Singh, Raj Kumar Gaud, Kanti Meena, Ramkesh Meena. Among the seven administrative divisions of the state, the Congress performed well in Jaipur, Kota, Bharatpur, Jodhpur and Ajmer. The BJP had an edge in Udaipur and Bikaner.
The verdict implies that Congress will form the government in the state. It signifies that the pattern of 'routine oscillation' or 'revolving door' in state politics which has been in vogue since 1993 has once again redeemed itself. Political competition in the state essentially continues to be bipolar between the BJP and the Congress. Together the two parties have secured nearly 85% of the Assembly seats and about 80% of the total votes polled. In many ways, the 2018 verdict shares significant similarities with the 2008 outcome. In the 2008 election, the Congress secured 96 seats and 37 per cent votes and the BJP won 78 seats and 34 per cent votes. Other political parties and the independent candidates won at 26 places and received about 29 per cent of the votes. The Congress could then form the government with the support of a few independents and 6 BSP legislators. This could be done due to the networking capabilities of Ashok Gehlot who was appointed as the Chief Minister of the state in 2008. In a tight political battle now, Gehlot has become more useful for the Congress as its potential chief minister.
Explaining the Verdict
In the run-up to the December elections, it was commonly believed that the Congress will win in Rajasthan because of the strong anti-incumbency against the BJP government. Survey studies done by Lokniti-CSDS towards the end of October and November clearly gauged this strong sense of dissatisfaction. This negative sentiment emerged because of two major reasons: perception of non-performance and corruption about the BJP government. The Raje government had initiated a number of welfare schemes in the state but the gap between promise and performance was too vast. The most important issues which determined voting choices were unemployment, price rise, inadequate access to drinking water, lack of development and insufficient access to health, education and transportation. What further angered the people was a sense that the Raje Government was 'corrupt' as well.
Most of the exit polls also predicted that the Congress will get a comfortable majority in the state. And yet the Congress has not been able to do as well as expected. A number of reasons could be accounted for this. The distribution of tickets by Congress led to serious discontent among many senior leaders of the party. A few of these left the party and decided to contest as independent candidates against the official contestants. No less important is the factor pertaining to potential allies. The talks between the Congress and the BSP failed. The BSP has damaged the prospects of Congress in constituencies which have a sizable presence of Dalit voters.
The distribution of tickets by Congress led to serious discontent among many senior leaders of the party
Looking at a possible "mahagathbandhan" for the forthcoming Lok Sabha election, the Congress shared five seats with the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh, NCP of Sharad Pawar and Janata Dal (Secular) of Sharad Yadav. The alliance partners have been able to win only one of these five seats. The rest have gone to the BJP or Congress rebels. Apart from this, new entrants like RLTP, BVP and the BTP have also eroded Congress support in different parts of the state.
The Congress also suffered because it did not declare anyone as its Chief Ministerial candidate. The Lokniti survey clearly established voters' view that political parties should declare their CM candidate before the elections. As a sequel to this view, nearly half of the respondents felt that they will vote for Congress if Ashok Gehlot had been declared as the potential Chief Minister. The gap between the popularity of Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot was found to be 24 per cent point in favour of Ashok Gehlot. The 'Modi' factor needs to be pointed out as a major reason which prevented a near rout of the BJP. The response to his election meetings in the first week of December helped the BJP in recovering some ground.
The Congress also suffered because it did not declare anyone as its Chief Ministerial candidate
Thus as a consequence of a number of factors the Congress could not record a comfortable victory as it was generally expected to. Even in its defeat, the BJP has not been disgraced. From the point of view of governance, one can conclude that the verdict will keep the Congress on its toes. The party will also have to keep in mind the fact that Lok Sabha elections are around the corner. Any inappropriate decision in the appointment of Chief Minister may adversely affect the chances of the party in the general elections.
The writer is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Mohan Lal Sukhadia University, Udaipur. In his role as the State Co-ordinator for Lokniti, CSDS Delhi, he oversaw the pre-poll opinion polls conducted by the organisation.