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Rajasthan polls: In the winter of 2018, Congress and BJP eye summer of 2019

The BJP leadership wants to replace most sitting MLAs with new candidates, but it has failed to achieve much on that for fear of upsetting Vasundhara Raje and its prospects in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls

Archis Mohan  |  Jaipur 

Rajasthan bypolls

Deserted until Thursday, the Congress headquarters in came alive just after midnight on Thursday when supporters burst firecrackers following the party’s announcement of candidates in 152 of the 200 seats for the

The last time Rajasthan returned an incumbent government to power was in 1993. Congress supporters are already smelling a win. The ticket distribution, while delayed, has galvanised supporters with all top leaders, including Ashok Gehlot, Sachin Pilot, C P Joshi and Girija Vyas, contesting the election. The leadership question, postponed until after the election results, is likely to help supporters bury their differences temporarily.

Shoulders in the camp have begun to drop. The team of BJP chief Amit Shah, Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Gajendra Shekhawat, and General Secretary (organisation) Chandrashekhar, had hoped they could replace at least a third of all sitting candidates to beat anti-incumbency. Of the 162 candidates announced by the BJP until now, 41 are new but mostly on the few seats the BJP had lost in the 2013 Assembly polls.

ALSO READ: Cong releases first list of candidates for Rajasthan polls

That they could not replace more has much to do with an eye on the 2019 The BJP leadership does not want to upset Rajasthan Chief Minister An angry Raje could hurt BJP’s ambition of repeating its 2014 performance in the 2019 In 2014, the party had swept Rajasthan, winning all the 25 seats on offer.

However, the past year has had the BJP leadership worried. The party suffered massive defeats in Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha bypolls held earlier this year. This week, BJP’s sitting Dausa Lok Sabha member Harish Meena quit to join the Congress and is now the party’s Assembly candidate from the Deoli-Uniara constituency. People are upset that the did not fulfil its promises of solving the water crisis. Farmers are upset that only a quarter of their produce is being purchased on minimum support price (MSP), and there is general anger among the youth over absence of jobs.

ALSO READ: BJP Lok Sabha member Harish Meena joins Congress ahead of Rajasthan polls

It has now become important for the BJP that it does not suffer a humiliating defeat, as that might affect its prospects in the So far, the party’s feedback has been that of anti-incumbency against the Raje government, even as Prime Minister continues to be popular. “Rani terikhairnahin, Moditujhsebairnahin” — if this slogan grated the ears of the BJP leadership when it first became popular during Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha bypolls in January, BJP’s central leaders are finding new meaning to it now. It loosely translates to “Queen (Vasundhara Raje) we will not spare you, but we have no complaints with Modi”.

Rajasthan has been a swing state in the Lok Sabha as well. In 2004, the BJP won 21 of the 25 seats and the Congress four. In 2009, Congress won 20 and BJP 4. And in 2014, BJP won all 25. A loss of even half the Lok Sabha seats in 2019 would hurt Modi and Shah’s ambitions.

ALSO READ: BJP releases 2nd list of 31 candidates for Rajasthan polls, drops 15 MLAs

The Congress is alert to this. While its state unit campaigns for the Assembly polls, Congress strategists have asked teams to fan out across the state to gauge the public mood about central government schemes, particularly crop insurance. The tall promises that the BJP made to solve the water crisis in the state and ensure minimum support price are now coming to haunt it.

However, it believes Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s campaigning in the state, which will begin from November 21, and the Sangh Parivar’s Ram temple movement, which is set to reach a crescendo on the poll eve here on December 6 — the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition — might help it blunt the edge the Congress currently seems to have. Rajasthan goes to polls on December 7.

First Published: Fri, November 16 2018. 13:35 IST