Rajasthan polls: Congress risks losing initial advantage over BJP as infighting escalates
Factionalism and the lack of a chief minister face may disrupt party’s early momentum
Udaipur/Bhilwara/Rajsamand (Rajasthan): The initial edge the Congress enjoyed over its principal rival the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Rajasthan is under threat as infighting within the party escalates even as the campaign enters its final stages.
In the bellwether region of Mewar, voters and a section of the party leadership strongly feel that infighting, factionalism and the lack of a chief ministerial face is disrupting the momentum the party generated in the campaign’s early phase.
Traditionally the party that does well in Mewar goes on to form the government in Jaipur. If this perception plays out then the BJP, which most opinion polls had written off, is very much back in the game. Analysts believe the BJP’s ability to close out the last mile may also come to its advantage.
The palpable differences between Congress’ two most popular faces—state unit chief Sachin Pilot and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot—were evident during candidate selection and are being seen as the turning point in the party’s campaign.
“Congress has too many faces and it does not send a good message. Even if we vote for them, we do not know who will become the chief minister. We want Congress to come back to power because we are unhappy with the current government but the problem is it cannot keep its (own) house in order. Its own leaders are fighting behind the scenes and one is trying pull down another,” said Shankar Lal Payak, a 52-year-old compounder from Bhilwara.
Gehlot queered the pitch further when he recently commented that unlike the popular perception that he and Pilot were chief ministerial aspirants, the Congress in Rajasthan has a total of seven CM aspirants, including former Union ministers C.P. Joshi, Girija Vyas and Lalchand Kataria, Lok Sabha MP Raghu Sharma and leader of legislative party Rameshwar Dudi. All seven are contesting the polls and this is adding to the confusion of voters. And as party insiders point out this fault line holds potential electoral consequences.
“We started our campaign early on a high note with (Congress president) Rahul Gandhi’s rallies in October but there is a view that we have been unable to sustain it. Almost all our senior leaders are contesting and barring the two top leaders, none of the other big names are moving out of their constituencies to campaign. Candidate selection was the last straw where all factions were pitted against each other,” a senior Congress leader involved in party’s campaign said requesting anonymity.
Factionalism driven by the ambitions of senior leaders has marred seat selection, with personal loyalties taking precedence over winnability. This is because the final choice of CM, if indeed the Congress defeats the BJP, will depend on the support they get from the elected MLAs.
In the run-up to the polls, Congress’ electoral prospects were promising. A convergence of factors such as organizational rebuilding over the last four years, anti-incumbency against BJP chief minister Vasundhara Raje over farm distress and the state’s tradition of voting out sitting governments for nearly two decades were working in its favour.
Even as the party is still confident of crossing the halfway mark, a section of the local leadership in Mewar region believe that the party is no longer enjoying a comfortable lead.
In 2013, Congress faced a near electoral rout in Rajasthan and was voted out of power as BJP managed its best ever tally of 163 seats out of 200.
However, loyal Congress voters or those disappointed with the BJP’s rule feel that a change in government should come despite leadership confusion in Congress. “It is time for change this time as many have made up their mind that Congress should come to power. Main reason is BJP has done enough work. Congress too has its share of problems and the sooner they sort it the better it will be,” said Subhash Joshi, a 29-year-old eatery owner in Dungarpur.
Assembly elections in Rajasthan are scheduled to be held on 7 December and votes will be counted on 11 December.
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