Jaipur: The Congress party will likely gain mileage from its December victory in Rajasthan state polls when the desert state votes on Thursday in the 15th Lok Sabha election, analysts say.
Rajasthan’s electorate handed power to the Congress by ousting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the assembly polls, in which the anti-incumbency factor played a critical role.
Some of the resentment against the former government still simmers, giving the Congress a potential edge when the state’s voters turn out to choose 25 representatives to the Lok Sabha.
State equations: The BJP office in Jaisalmer. The state’s electorate of 37 million is divided along caste lines. While Jats, Muslims, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes have traditionally voted for the Congress, the so-called upper-caste Rajputs have favoured the BJP. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
“Misgovernance and corruption had become a way of life with the previous government. This will show results in the coming general election,” said a Rajasthan government official who declined to be identified.
And as usual, caste equations will play a crucial role in the election.
The state’s electorate of 37 million is divided along caste lines. While Jats, Muslims, scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) have traditionally voted for the Congress, the so-called upper-caste Rajputs have favoured the BJP.
Both the parties have support bases among Brahmins and Vaishyas. The Meenas, an ST community, have a strong presence, comprising around 10% of the population.
Community and caste support bases are important in the state which saw a sustained agitation by the Gujjar community in the past couple of years to gain ST status. Gujjar currently belong to the other backward class category.
The agitation was strongly opposed by the Meenas, who saw this as a threat to their dominance in getting government jobs in the ST category.
“One thing is for sure; the Muslims of the state are with the Congress,” said Asgar Ali, an advocate in Jaipur.
Meenas are also by and large likely to vote for the Congress as the former BJP government in the state has been seen as being soft with the Gujjars.
Some, however, feel that the influence of caste leaders is on the wane, which could benefit the Congress.
“Be it Kirodi Lal Meena of the Meena community, Colonel (Kirori Singh) Bhainsla of Gujjars, Suresh Mishra of Brahmin’s, Gyan Prakash Pilania of Jat community and Ram Dass Agarwal of Vaish Mahasabha, they have all lost their sheen,” said Rajiv Gupta, associate professor, department of sociology, University of Rajasthan. “The voter, while being guided by caste equations, is also thinking individually and votes of such individuals who think differently may go to the Congress.”
Gupta also said that peasant movement in the state’s Shekhawati region have seen the rise of some Left leaders, which suggest that non-BJP, non-Congress forces are also on the rise.
“I would say out of the 25 seats, 14-15 will go to Congress, two may go to either CPM (Communist Party of India-Marxist) or the Third Front and the rest to BJP. Young leaders in Congress such as Sachin Pilot in Ajmer and Jitendra Singh in Alwar will also have an advantage over others,” Gupta said. “However, there is no determined support to the BJP and I would say it is fighting a lost battle.”
One of the keenly watched contest is taking place in the Sawai Madhopur-Tonk Lok Sabha seat where Namo Narayan Meena of the Congress is pitted against Kirori Singh Bainsala of the BJP, who led the Gujjar agitation that was opposed by the Meenas.
There are around 300,000 Meena voters and 200,000 Gujjar voters in the constituency.
“Congress is doing a lot to woo Meena votes. It has has also posted a Meena, H.C. Meena, as director general of police in March,” a senior government official in Jaipur said on condition of anonymity.
Namo Narayan Meena, who is the Union minister of state for environment and forests, has the support of Kirodi Lal Meena, a local influential leader who is contesting as an independent candidate. Kirodi Lal Meena is now supporting the Congress candidate to keep Bainsala at bay.
Besides supporting Namo Narayan Meena, Kirodi Lal Meena has also shown interest in supporting state Congress president C.P. Joshi, who is contesting from Bhilwara constituency, and Jitendra Singh, who is contesting from Alwar.
This indicates Meena votes are with the Congress, said a senior government official who also declined being named.
In Jodhpur, the BJP faces a tough fight in a constituency once known to be its bastion. Congress candidate Chandresh Kumari, sister of Gaj Singh, the scion of the erstwhile royal family of Jodhpur, is contesting the BJP’s Jaswant Singh Bishnoi, who won from the seat in 1999 and 2004.
Rajputs, who constitute around 19% of the voters in this constituency, have been typically seen as voting for former royals. Muslims (12-13%) and SC/STs (21%) are also likely to vote for the Congress. Rajputs and Jats dominate the area with around 275,000 and 100,000 voters, respectively, out of about 1.4 million voters.
Even though Bishnoi is credited with working to solve Jodhpur’s water problem and establishing a unit of the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences, his association with the stampede in Jodhpur fort during the Dussehra festival in October may work against him.
“It was because he was to visit the fort and security personnel got involved in arranging his visit that the public in general got neglected,” said Chandan Singh, a businessman and Congress supporter.
“It’s a game of palace versus the poor. What will she (Kumari) do for the poor?” asked Jasha Ram, a BJP supporter. Rural voters in Jodhpur, whose major concerns are inflation, health facilities and drinking water, constitute 70% of the electorate.
In Jaisalmer, Harish Chaudhary of the Congress is challenging the BJP’s Manvendra Singh, son of former finance minister Jaswant Singh.
Scarcity of water is a major issue here. “Vasundhara Raje worked for five years but could not solve the water crisis in Jaisalmer. (Chief minister) Ashok Gehlot is already working on it and if Congress comes to power at the Centre, there will be better Centre-state co-ordination,” said Shiv Narayan Chowdhary, an advocate and Congress supporter.
Hathe Ram Sodha, a BJP supporter and a Rajput, disagreed. “Manvendra has expedited visa facilities for all those going to Pakistan and helped getting recognition to several madrasas (Muslim seminaries) in the state as also increased the number of teachers in madrasas,” he said. He was supported by Jalam Singh Bhati, local spokesperson for BJP.
Sodha also said that the BJP has connected rural roads under the Pradhan Manthri Gram Sadak Yojana (Prime Minister’s village roads programme) and upgraded primary schools into middle schools and middle schools into secondary schools. Besides, water from Rajasthan Canal has benefited the Barmer district immensely.
Jaisalmer and Barmer together form the largest constituency in the country in terms of land area.
Ali Gulam of Khuri village said: “There are no caste equations in Jaisalmer. Being a Muslim, I will vote for the BJP.” In Alwar, Congress candidate Jitendra Singh, who belongs to an erstwhile royal family, is currently a state lawmaker from Alwar city. “He has promised a Metro link from Delhi to Alwar. As an MLA also he has done a lot for the improvement of the city,” said Bhanwar Singh, a Jaipur trader.
Singh is contesting Kiran Yadav of the BJP, wife of Jaswant Yadav, BJP MLA from Behror.
Even while the Rajput votes are set to go to Singh, the region is dominated by the Yadavs. Out of 11 MLAs from the region, three are Yadavs.