Jaipur: Nearly 68% of Rajasthan’s 36.2 million voters turned up on Thursday to cast their ballot which would elect the state’s next government.
The state’s principal opposition, the Congress party, with 56 legislators in the outgoing house, is hoping to make substantial gains this time.
The party did not name its candidate for the top post but former chief minister Ashok Gehlot and president of the party’s state unit C.P. Joshi are considered to be the frontrunners. Although the BJP and Congress are expected to share most seats in the 200-member legislative assembly, political analysts say the Communist Party of India, Marxist (CPM) will make sizeable gains in the state.
The CPM, which contested 18 seats in the 2003 election and won just one, has this time fielded candidates in 34.
“The CPM will do surprisingly well this time,” said Ramesh Dhadhich, professor of political science at the Rajasthan University. “In the past four-and-a-half years, whatever issues have erupted politically such as water, electricity and so on, both on the floor of the House and outside, it is the CPM that has taken up the cudgels (for farmers’ cause).”
“In the past five years, we played an effective role as (an) opposition where the (principal opposition) Congress failed,” said Hannan Mollah, a member of CPM central committee and in-charge of Rajasthan. “Our only legislator Amra Ram was the only member who raised crucial issues and led several farmer agitations.”
He said the CPM was coordinating with Communist Party of India (CPI) and Janata Dal (Secular) in constituencies where it has not fielded its own candidates. “We will ask people to vote for them.”
Mollah said the CPM has a strong presence in the Shekhawati belt in Rajasthan, which covers Fatehpur, Sikar, Lakshmangarh and Jhunjhunu districts. Its influence in the northern districts of the state, such as Ganganagar, Hanumangarh and Bikaner, is also growing, he said. These districts together account for nearly 40 assembly seats.
Electoral rights: Women show their identity cards at a polling booth in Bikaner. Nearly 60% turnout was registered for the state assembly polls.
According to Dhadhich, the party’s influence in these areas has grown considerably in the past decade thanks to the agitations it has led for the farmers in the region, especially the one in the Phase I area of the Indira Gandhi Canal during the BJP rule that claimed more than half a dozen lives in the canal belt.
In Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu districts, the party has spearheaded peaceful campaigns in the past five years demanding electricity for farmers. Even the Congress seems to agree with Dhadhich and Mollah. “...they (CPM) will increase their votes and so will we,” said state president Joshi. He, however, ruled out the chances of the CPM eating into the Congress’ vote share.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank, also agrees that the CPM could be a significant player in Rajasthan. “There is a space or opening in Rajasthan politics right now (for the CPM) and the party has been doing good cadre-based work,” Mehta said. “They (CPM) have done a lot for us villagers, especially farmers,” said Nagarmal (who uses only one name), a farmer in Rambakshpura, which comes under Dhod, the assembly constituency which elected the lone CPM legislator in the last election. “Slowly, people across the state will become aware of the work done by the CPM and the inefficiencies of the Congress and the BJP, and a day will come when Rajasthan will see a CPM government.”
“I will vote for them (CPM) for all the work they have done for farmers and unorganized workers,” said Ram Niwas, also a farmer in Dhod.