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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  How Rajasthan has fared under the BJP-Congress pendulum

If anti-incumbency is a phenomenon, Rajasthan is the proof. Since 1993, no state government has been re-elected: the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ceded power to the Indian National Congress after each of its five-year stints, only to regain it after five years. Pre-poll surveys suggest that this pattern will continue in the upcoming Rajasthan elections. Oscillating leadership, in theory, can hinder economic and development performance. But Rajasthan’s data suggests otherwise.

Even as its leaders have changed, the state has progressed fairly steadily. Latest gross domestic product (GDP) figures reveal that the state has expanded at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 5% in 2013-18 under Vasundhara Raje, the current BJP chief minister, (using data from the 2011-12 series). But as a share of India’s total GDP, Rajasthan has hovered around 5% in the past five years, slightly less than its share in India’s population (5.7%).

Rajasthan’s significant growth in recent years came under the previous Ashok Gehlot-led Congress regime, where GDP grew by 7% CAGR between 2008-13 and its share in India’s GDP rose from 4.4% to 5% (using data from the 2004-05 series). This was driven by improved manufacturing performance: Rajasthan’s share in India’s industrial output increased from 4.8% to 5.6% in 2008-13. However, over the last five years, Rajasthan’s industrial output has remained around 5% of Indian output.

This is despite successful efforts by the BJP government to attract more investment. According to data from Centre For Monitoring Indian Economy, Rajasthan attracted 90,750 crore of investment between 2013-18, a 25% increase over the preceding five years. Another central feature of Raje’s leadership has been a concerted effort to boost employment and, specifically, the promise of 1.5 million new jobs in the state.

To do this, she has implemented several labour reforms designed to help firms hire more workers. But these reforms do not seem to have had their desired effects. Factory jobs have risen over the last decade but Rajasthan accounts for only 3.5% of India’s total factory workers. More tellingly, this growth has been driven largely by an increase in contract workers. In 2015-16, contract workers accounted for 39.6% of Rajasthan’s factory workforce.

All this explains why, according to a pre-poll survey by Lokniti-CSDS, voters are most concerned by lack of jobs. The other major concern in Rajasthan is farmer distress. Nearly 60% of Rajasthan’s workers depend on agriculture for a livelihood and many have taken to the streets in protests, while some have even taken their own lives. According to research by Sanjoy Chakravorty and others, Rajasthan’s farmers have fared better than the average Indian farmer in recent years. Their study shows that, between 2003-13, Rajasthan’s farmers saw income increase by 63% (more than the Indian average increase of 34%). However, these farmers have hit on hard times over the last few months. Bumper production in key agricultural products (notably garlic, gram and moong) has driven down prices.

Pressures from falling prices have been exacerbated by weak procurement. For wheat, a major crop in Rajasthan, total procurement from the state was less than 5% of India’s total procurement this past season, despite Rajasthan producing on average around 9% of wheat in India.The areas most affected by this farmer angst are also the poorest areas of the state. Using a multi-dimensional measure of poverty, which captures indicators on education, health and living standards, researchers from the University of Oxford have estimated that 32% of Rajasthan’s population, live in poverty. While this represents a 30 percentage point reduction from 2005-06, it is still higher than the all-India figure of 28%. And to compound matters, there is disparity within the state and, unsurprisingly, districts with more farm workers are the poorest.

On certain development indicators though, Rajasthan has performed particularly well. Infant mortality has improved and is now in line with the India average at 41 deaths per 1,000 births (from 65 in 2005-06). More than 90% of households have electricity connections (the Indian average is 88%) and learning levels data from Rajasthan government schools suggest little difference with the average Indian government school. However, these improvements, which have been gradual and across regimes, are unlikely to register with voters who may have other concerns. Beyond jobs and farmer distress, caste conflicts have played a major role in Rajasthan’s recent politics. All these factors may fuel Rajasthan voters’ natural anti-incumbency tendencies and push them away from the BJP and towards the Congress.

This is the first of a two-part data journalism series on Rajasthan. The next part will examine how different segments of voters in the state have voted in previous elections.

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Updated: 27 Nov 2018, 12:11 PM IST
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