The first phase of elections in 13 seats was marked by enthusiasm in Rajasthan with 67.88 per cent polling, which is more than four per cent of average polling in the last elections. Despite the heat wave in the state, voters belonging to the ‘hot’ seats of Jodhpur, Rajsamand, Barmer, Jhalawar-Baran, Banswara and Tonk- Sawai Madhopur pressed the EVM button enthusiastically for all the 115 candidates that were in the fray for the April 29 polling day. Today (May 6), more await their turn in the second and final phase in which 12 seats, including Jaipur Urban and Rural, are polling.
Last Lok Sabha elections in Rajasthan, BJP did a clean sweep on all 25 seats, capitalising on the Modi wave in 2014. The state is hogging the limelight again. It is almost unlikely for BJP to repeat its previous performance, but the question is, how much ground will the Congress be able to cover? The state’s political scenario has changed since the 2018 assembly elections, where voters had made it clear even at that time that they wanted change in the state leadership, but at the Centre, they would support the ruling party. In 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Congress had also performed remarkably well in the state clinching 20 out of 25 seats with a vote share of 47 per cent, while in 2014 BJP had lapped up 54 per cent vote, and all 25 seats.
Rajasthan is known to give both national parties a chance alternatively every five years. It is important to note that the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in the state, were fought when Rajasthan had BJP rule under the leadership of Vasundhara Raje. It was clear advantage then, as it seems for Congress now, in the 17th Lok Sabha elections, when the state has a newly formed government under the leadership of Ashok Gehlot, who has used this opportunity to swing the mood in favour of the party.
Being a seasoned politician of national stature, Gehlot is pumping all his energy into have his son elected from Jodhpur constituency, and through him, continue his political legacy. He has already declared, amid allegations of dynastic politics, that it is his duty as a father to support his son who has also worked as party cadre. Rejecting any rift between himself and the Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, Gehlot is confident of a favourable outcome while Pilot is positioning himself as the next generation state leadership. Recently, caste organisations and known faces have shown their allegiance to BJP on the pretext of Pilot denied the post of the chief minister, further indicating all is not well within the party.
Jodhpur has already seen 68.50 per cent turnout in the first phase of elections and the BJP candidate from this crucial seat – union minister and sitting MP Gajendra Singh Shekhawat also has his position at stake this time. He is being seen as an emerging face of the BJP to lead the party in state politics so far.
Jaipur urban, Bikaner, Rajsamand, Barmer-Jaisalmer, Jhunjhunu, Sikar are among those seats facing party level unrest or anti-incumbency while Alwar, Jaipur Rural, Churu, Bharatpur, Dholpur have other factors driving the sentiments, despite all rant against religion, caste and dynastic politics. Barmer recorded the highest polling of 72.88 per cent with Manvendra Singh fighting on Congress ticket and Jhalawar has also done fairly well with 71.70 per cent polling, where Dushyant Singh, son of Vasundhara Raje and current MP, is party candidate for the fourth consecutive time. Rajsamand did not show as much excitement, having polled 63.74 per cent and Pali was the worst of the lot, with just 61 per cent voter turnout.
Keeping caste equations in mind on adjoining constituencies of Sikar, Churu, Jhunjhunu and Jaipur Rural, JP has allied with a regional party NLP (National Loktantrik Party) for Nagaur seat and has not fielded its candidate from there. The party, which was formed just before the assembly elections, is led by the political opponent of Vasundhara Raje, and had lapped up three seats in the December 2018 assembly polls. With 72 per cent voting, the tribal seat of Banswara looks at a triangular fight in Lok Sabha elections also because of consolidation of tribal youth and Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP) having won two seats in assembly elections here for the first time.
But, the larger picture fits in a bigger frame with Prime Minister Narendra Modi ruling the mind of the voters. His aggressive campaigning has kept his opponents on their toes. Issues like national security and nationalism have been played up and regional realities with national level policy stand and sentiments like the one on Hindu migrants from Pakistan having the largest population in Rajasthan, are also consciously raised in his speeches. In his rally in Western Rajasthan, Prime Minister briefly mentioned Citizenship Amendment Bill, which has given legal status to the migrant community as his achievement and also threatened Pakistan of dire consequences if it continues cross border terrorism.
With 1048 kilometers of broader area in western Rajasthan and districts like Sikar and Jhunjhunu, having the largest number of martyrs in the country, Prime Minister Modi’s speeches draw attention and make big headlines. On the other hand, Congress, even though it mentioned the citizenship issue in its manifesto and said the party will recall the amendment if it comes to power, has not actively talked about the issue in its political speeches. National security, One Rank One Pension for Armed Forces and farm relief are key issues that the BJP is raising in its poll drives other than successes of other central schemes. Looking back at the assembly election results, in terms of vote share (Congress 40% and BJP 39%) BJP has had no big setback (73 seats out of 200). Hence, the BJP is building hope for a comeback with fair force in national elections, if not a sweep as before.
Interestingly, manifestos have become a point of reference for the parties this time and manifesto promises brandished on hoardings on major highways have been strategically placed by BJP and Congress both. It also emerged in the dialogue with voters that common people hardly read manifestos and simplified versions of key promises floated in news media or social media is their only source of information.
Clearly, while BJP candidates are relying entirely on the nationalistic fervour Modi has built, Congress is silent on cash support to unemployed and farm loan waiver, which had created a wave on which they rode comfortably in assembly elections. The Congress party is largely cashing in on the fancy idea of NYAY scheme of universal basic income to five crore people. Some civil society organizations closer to the party have been amplifying this idea, indicating that the scheme has deeper roots. This scheme, however, has already been challenged in Allahabad High Court on the grounds of being a bribe to the voters and the court has sought reply on this from the party and the Election Commission.
With state and constituency level critical development issues taking a back seat and national issues and leaders occupying all space, 4.86 crore voters of Rajasthan have begun to lock the fate of candidates using their calculations and among these, 2.32 crore women voters are also critical. Women have shown increased participation in the last two assembly elections, being at par with the men. The Election Commission has been encouraging them through all women (Sakhi) booths managed by women workforce only. Women have been raising the issue of health, education, safety, water crisis, income generation and work force participation, which are all lost in the din of high voltage campaigns. Hopefully, voice of every voter will find expression through their representatives in Parliament, who they are electing through EVMs using their poll-wisdom.
- Dr Shipra Mathur, Senior Journalist