Rajasthan becoming a political hot-pot

Gyan Pathak

On the eve of the assembly election, Rajasthan has become a political hot-pot in which both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress are performing a tight-rope walk. Communal polarization has somewhat weakened giving way to a stronger caste polarization on the issue of reservation.
The prospect of the BJP losing the state has prompted Sangh Parivar to conspire large scale misuse of the provision of NOTA. If it succeeds in Rajasthan, it will be applied all over India for the Lok Sabha election in 2019. Campaigns have already started for it, in which people are told to vote for NOTA if they are not satisfied. The idea is that it will prevent the opposition benefiting from anti-incumbency, while the BJP rank and file will vote for the party. This may start a new era of cadre-based electoral politics, which will ensure the victory of the party having the largest cadre. The BJP hopes to be the largest beneficiary because it has the largest cadre.
Even in the complexity of the new political situation, one thing is clear: the BJP is standing on shifting political sands. There is quantifiable data of its weakening electoral performance in the by-elections held in past five years, in which the party lost five of the six Vidhan Sabha seats to Congress. The one that it could retain was marked by much reduced victory margin along with smaller percentage of votes. This trend continued even in the by-elections held this year for the two Lok Sabha seats, which were again wrested by Congress. It is a clear indication of the plummeting political clout of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje on the one hand, and the rising graph of the political fortune of the Congress.
The level of communal polarization of Hindu votes had been on the increase in the decade before 2014. However, after 2014, it has been declining, and there seems to be no scope of further polarization on the communal lines because of more acute issues such as joblessness, rising costs of education and health services, farmers’ distress, and the issues of reservation, which has sharply divided the communities on caste lines. The upper caste Hindus are also demanding reservation for the economically weaker people among them. Karni Sena is in the forefront of the anti-reservation campaign, attacking quotas for the STs, SCs, and OBCs. Shakti Sena of the Gurjars is not far behind.
The anti-reservation forces demanding reservation for the weaker sections of the upper castes are dominated by the Sangh Parivar. They have been openly voicing concern for the plight of the poor people belonging to the upper castes, which is seen as an attempt to rally the upper castes in favour of the BJP. This is being promoted as a theme and excuse to exercise the NOTA option so that the anti-incumbency votes do not go in favour of the opposition.
Another worry for BJP is the state’s alternating pattern of people’s verdict, which means that the scale this time is in favour of Congress. To prevent this, the BJP has planned to focus more on the urban areas where it has a large support base. The fast pace of urbanization in the last two decades has changed the state’s demography and the influence of the urban agglomerations on the election results are well-known. Of the state’s 200 assembly constituencies, 185 are in statutory towns, which include municipal corporations, municipalities, municipal councils, Cantonment boards and urban outgrowths. There are also 112 census towns.
Congress seems to have an upper hand in the rural areas. Their hope lies in the fact that the state still has about 75 per cent of the population in the rural areas. But the challenge it has to face is to minimize the urban influence on the rural voters. The party also has an advantage of anti-incumbency in the urban areas which lack civil amenities due to the fast pace of urbanization, and the government’s inability to cope with it.
Though there is no considerable support base of any other political parties in the state, non-BJP, and non-INC candidates can play major role to cut into the prospects of the two main parties. BJP is also trying to field more independent candidates to damage the chances of Congress, which is, however, trying to ally with smaller political parties such as the BSP with some notable support base. Infighting is more pronounced in Congress than in the BJP. Old guard Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, representing the new generation, need to have closer cooperation to ensure a Congress victory. (IPA)

Tuesday, 25 September, 2018