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BJP supporters during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally at Sumerpur in Rajasthan on Wednesday. Photo: Twitter@narendramodi
BJP supporters during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally at Sumerpur in Rajasthan on Wednesday. Photo: Twitter@narendramodi

BJP feels the heat in Rajasthan, banks on Modi

Modi's popularity intact in the state, but voters angry with inaccessible Raje

Alwar, Tonk, Ajmer (Rajasthan): Modi tujhse bair nahi, Vasundhara teri khair nahi," (We have no grudge against Modi, but won’t spare Vasundhara). The slogan that was raised by farmers of Rajasthan earlier this year at the height of a movement demanding loan waivers signifies both the problem and the solution for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it tries to script history by retaining power for a second consecutive term.

A demand for change continues to resonate in most parts of the state. However, the biggest factor that stands between a clear win for the Congress and a return of the BJP in the state is the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has held more than 10 public meetings and a roadshow in Jaipur which crisscrossed 13 assembly constituencies. Electors of Rajasthan have for nearly two decades been voting out incumbents, but the ruling party is depending on Modi to buck this trend.

“My vote is for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I am keeping in mind the work that has been done by his government and not what has been done by the state government led by Vasundhara Raje," said 35-year-old Narender Jain, a jeweller from Tonk constituency, which lies 100km from the state capital of Jaipur.

Voters in central Rajasthan and Mewar region, particularly those inclined towards the ruling BJP, feel that the work done by the Union government coupled with the personal charisma of Modi could be the two big factors for them in supporting the party in the state. The anti-incumbency of the Vasundhara Raje government and a common complaint of voters that the chief minister is not accessible enough could get negated by the development schemes implemented by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), particularly the Swachh Bharat campaign of providing toilets to every household, Ujjwala scheme that provides LPG cylinders and housing for all projects which has helped financially and socially weaker sections.

Modi’s personal popularity and credibility with the voters also remains unchallenged. The state is set to decide who the next chief minister will be, but Modi remains the most popular leader.

Modi is the most liked leader in Rajasthan with 52% votes, followed by former Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot at 33% and Vasundhara Raje at 26%, according to a Lokniti-CSDS pre-election survey published last month.The popularity of Congress president Rahul Gandhi was lowest among these leaders at 18%.

“The BJP government in the state has not performed up to our expectations. There is a general sentiment among the people that they are angry with (Vasundhara) Raje because she has not done enough for the public and has remained stationed in Jaipur. But we are willing to overlook all this because we want Modi to perform well. For BJP to do well in 2019, the messaging has to be strong enough six months before the state polls," said Nirmal Kumar Bishnoi, a 52-year-old cloth merchant from Bhilwara.

With less than six months left for the BJP-led NDA to face voters again in 2019 general elections, the performance in Rajasthan is crucial for the party to set the tone for the Lok Sabha. Interestingly, Rajasthan was one of the largest states in 2014 where the BJP won all the 25 Lok Sabha seats leaving none to its arch rival, Congress. In 2013 too, the announcement of Modi as prime ministerial candidate of BJP and his subsequent campaign in the state polls was seen as one of the reasons for BJP to make history by winning 163 out of 200 seats, a feat that has never been achieved by BJP earlier. On its part, the Congress is banking on anti-incumbency against Raje and is relying on its core voters as well as those who are upset with the state government’s performance.

Political analysts point out that despite anti-incumbency against Raje, the image of Modi could play a decisive role in the minds of voters on Friday. “The election scenario is constantly changing here. When it comes to local issues of water, electricity, infrastructure, then anti-incumbency starts to play a role and people want change. On the other hand, due to the image and persona of PM Modi, people get divided. The public is focusing on the policies brought in by the central government," Shyam Mohan Agarwal, associate professor at University of Rajasthan said.

Anuja in Bhilwara contributed to this story.

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