Rajasthan lived up to its 25-year-old record of throwing out the incumbent government. However, few had expected the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to put up as spirited a fight as it eventually did, or that the Congress would shoot itself in the foot so grievously in its ticket distribution that it would struggle to reach the majority mark of 100 seats.
For months, the word on the street in Rajasthan was that it would yet again throw out the incumbent government, as it has consistently since 1993. People pointed at several reasons, including Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s “arrogance”.
During her tenure, Raje tried not to succumb to the pressure put on her by government employees, who struck work frequently. Under pressure from farmers, Raje also waived loans to the tune of Rs 84 billion of 2.9 million farmers. Her government’s Bhamashah medical insurance scheme was popular, and road construction appreciated.
However, as her rival Sachin Pilot said in the run up to the elections, Raje was also the only BJP leader to stand up to BJP chief Amit Shah. She did get her choice of BJP’s state unit chief, but her associates complained that the Narendra Modi government neglected Rajasthan in the Centre’s budgetary allocations to the state.
Lack of jobs was an issue, as was poor implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in Rajasthan. People also complained that the goods and services tax (GST) forced them to shell out more money for agricultural tools and building material, while there has been no qualitative improvement in delivery of government services.
In 2013, the BJP won a massive 165 of the 200-seats and 45.17 per cent vote share. In 2014, BJP won all of Rajasthan’s 25-Lok Sabha seats. It is possible the people of the state might still vote for Modi in 2019, but the poorest say successive years of drought, agrarian distress, scarcity of water were problems that demonetisation amplified. Shah and Modi, however, need Raje for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP does not yet have a leader in the state who can match her popularity.
Raje won the Jhalrapatan Assembly constituency for the fifth consecutive term on Tuesday, defeating Congress candidate Manvendra Singh by a margin of 34,890 votes.
The Congress has a problem of riches. Both its leaders, former chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, are popular. Pilot took over the party’s reins when it was at a low, and rebuilt it, led protests, braved police lathis and got arrested. According to sources, Congress President Rahul Gandhi wants Pilot to be the chief minister as a signal that the younger generation is taking on the mantle from the old guard.
Early in the day, as the Congress took the lead in the three states, Pilot said in Jaipur: “We are confident the trend will continue across the country.”
The Congress has improved its vote share from 33.07 per cent in 2013 to 39.2 per cent. It was also large hearted in accommodating some of the smaller parties, including the Rashtriya Lok Dal.
However, there are murmurs in the Congress that intense infighting cost it nearly 20 seats. The newly formed Rashtriya Loktantrik Party of Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal also hurt the Congress in some seats.
It will now hope to get the smaller parties to its side for a better performance in 2019.