A fierce battle between BJP, Cong on cards in Rajasthan

The poll will also be an acid test for the youngest national party, the AAP, which is riding high on its resounding Punjab success. While Congress seems all sorted about the leadership issue, all eyes are on the BJP after it cold-shouldered formidable Vasundhara Raje Scindia, writes Aayush Goel

Rajasthan, one of the prominent political hotbeds of the country is headed for yet another festival of democracy. The state with 200 assembly seats is now heading for assembly elections on November 25 where 5.2 crore voters will vote and its results will be released on December 3, 2023. Earlier, the date for Rajasthan assembly elections was scheduled on November 23 but it was changed by the Election Commission of India as many large-scale weddings and social engagements are to take place on 23rd. The last date for filing nominations is November 6. November 9 is the last date for withdrawal of candidatures. The tenure of the present Rajasthan assembly will end in January 2024.

The Rajasthan election will not just be a tooth-and-nail fight between the BJP and the incumbent Congress but also an acid test of the youngest national party, the AAP, which is riding high on Punjab assembly election success and its performance in Gujarat. While AAP and Congress seem all sorted about their leadership, eyes are set on BJP as it has chosen to sideline its most formidable leader – a woman and Rajput – Vasundhara Raje Scindia. The 70-year-old veteran is being pushed into oblivion with many of her supporters not making it to the candidates’ list so far. The party circles seem to be swaying in favour of Rajsamand MP Diya Kumari as Raje’s replacement. Diya hails from Jaipur Royal family.

In the 2018 assembly poll, Congress had swept to power with 100 seats in a 200-member house, dislodging the BJP government led by Scindia. In the 2013 assembly, the BJP received a thumping victory with 163 seats and Scindia being the CM. Both the parties are out there wooing the electorate. Between BJP’s aggressive Parivartan Sankalp Yatra and Congress’ confident Jan Ashirwad Yatra – it remains to be seen who manages to convince the voters better.

Key issues

Disillusionment is what the voter in Rajasthan faces today  as currently the choice is between Ashok Gehlot’s factionalism-hit incumbent Congress government and the BJP without a chief ministerial face aspirants. According to experts it will be youth and women voters which will be decisive in Rajasthan and the issues catching attention are crime against women and successive exam paper leaks.

Rajasthan’s examination paper leaks have almost become a norm. In this tenure of the government itself, there have been at least 14 instances when examination papers were leaked impacting around 1 crore youths. With as many as 48.92 lakh voters voting for the first time in Rajasthan and playing a decisive role, their anger can cost the Congress dear.

Similarly crime against women has been a recurrent problem in the state with the saffron party blaming Gehlot for the same. Union Minister Anurag Thakur had in July itself set it as a key attack on the government. “A total of 33,000 cases pertain to sexual assault on women in Rajasthan, but the Gandhi family remains silent”, he had alleged.

Vasundhra Raje has claimed that most of the crime cases against women have taken place in Rajasthan which alone accounted for more than 10 lakh incidents in 54 months. This time, the state has a whopping 2.51 crore women voters. Rajsamand MP Diya Kumari adds on, saying, “They have totally failed on all fronts, be it crime against women, rising prices, deteriorating law and order, leak of question papers or widespread corruption. I could go on and on.”

BJP is also taking up the issue of alleged rampant corruption, the latest being the free ration kit scheme over which they staged a walkout from the assembly. With a divided BJP struggling to unite its leadership, and the Congress banking on welfare schemes, the electoral outcome remains uncertain.

Key rivalries 

In spite of being side-lined, BJP’s most formidable leader in the desert state remains Vasundhra Raje Scindia. On the other hand, even at the age of 72, chief minister Ashok Gehlot of the Congress is fighting for a second consecutive term. So, essentially a BJP-Congress face-off in Rajasthan means a clash between the two old horses.

However, it’s not just a direct fight between the two candidates. Both the leaders have rivals within their own parties as well. While Gehlot has 46-year-old Sachin Pilot to worry about, Scindia has 52-year-old Diya Kumari to be concerned about as the speculation is rife that the saffron party is grooming her to be Raje’s replacement.

The Congress list has clarified that Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot will be contesting from Sardarpura and Tonk, respectively. Earlier, there was speculation that both might change their constituencies and contest from different ones. Pilot went on for a hasty rebellion in 2020 when he along with 18 MLAs camped in BJP-ruled Haryana demanding a change of leadership. Even as recently as this year, he sat on a hunger strike demanding action against alleged corruption in the state putting Gehlot in a spot. At an event hosted by a media group on September 24, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi remarked that the party was confident of winning Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana, but it would be a close call in Rajasthan. This was interpreted as a subtle message to the party’s leadership in Rajasthan to get its act together.

While Diya Kumari has been insisting that there was no competition between her and Raje, stressing that she in fact was her mentor, it is making no difference to the evident scenario. Vasundhara Raje Scindia will contest from Jhalrapatan and enjoys strong popularity in this region.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a whirlwind tour of Rajasthan on September 25, where he addressed booth-level party workers. It also marked the conclusion of the four Parivartan Sankalp Yatras, spread over 19 days and covering all 200 constituencies. Modi has made nine visits to the state in the past one year. The personal interest he is showing in Rajasthan probably has to do with the rift in the state unit that is making news. Observers say that the party is split vertically down to the rank and file. The Parivartan Yatras were also meant to unite these factions. In the past years, former CM Vasundhara Raje Scindia led all the Parivartan Yatras, drawing huge crowds, especially women. But this time, she did not do so and even preferred to stay out of the Jhalawar and Kota legs of the yatra.

Sardarpura: This is considered to be a VVIP seat since CM Ashok Gehlot has fought from this constituency several times. The assembly seat falls under Jodhpur district.

Tonk: This is the constituency of former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot. Due to a sizable Gujjar population, BJP has entrusted its controversial Gujjar leader Ramesh Bidhuri to ensure win for the BJP candidate.

Vidhyadhar Nagar: BJP’s royal face that it is projecting as its ‘next Vasundhara’ Diya Kumari has been fielded from this seat. A cosmopolitan seat that falls under Jaipur, this was won by the BJP’s Narpat Singh in 2018.

Jhalrapatan: The name of Vasundhara Raje, BJP’s most formidable leader, Rajput and a royal, has been announced from Jhalrapatan. This is where she won in the 2018 assembly poll for the fifth consecutive term. Last time around, she won with a margin of 34,890 votes defeating Congress candidate Manvendra Singh.

Jhotwara: Former Union Minister in Modi cabinet and BJP leader Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore will contest from Jhotwara this time. Last time around, Congress leader and former union minister Lalchand Katariya snatched this seat from BJP.