The Congress is keeping a close eye on people’s response to the rallies being conducted in Rajasthan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah. Internal party sources revealed that the Congress has formed a separate team which, “posing as media personnel”, are recording the voters’ responses in these rallies. “The feedback is that the people are not happy with the issues being raised by PM. In fact, they are not responsive in these rallies,” the source said.
They see it as a positive signal for the party. In both the Gujarat and Karnataka assembly polls, the BJP—which had lost the balance—surged back a little with Modi and Shah’s rallies. But can the Congress party rely on such inadequate signals, especially when the polls are barely a week away?
Notably, now that the voting is over in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the entire focus has shifted to Rajasthan. Top brass leaders from both the Congress and the BJP are holding a series of rallies in the state. The list of star campaigners for the BJP goes beyond Modi and Shah. As incumbent Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje continues to hold big public meetings, the saffron party has also rallied its leaders such as Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath and several union ministers.
However, it appears that the Congress party has become a little complacent, and right before the state goes to vote. Rajasthan Congress (RPCC) president Sachin Pilot in conversation with Newslaundry twice mentioned that the Congress is set to win the election. Where is this confidence—or overconfidence—stemming from?
Senior Congress leader Pawan Khera told Newslaundry, that the party’s hopes are high because of “triple-layered anti-incumbency factor working against the BJP.” He added, “The anti-incumbency factor is working against the BJP MLAs, Vasundhara Raje and PM Modi.”
The BJP had to face a series of mini-mutinies after it distributed tickets. Based on internal surveys, the BJP denied tickets to 43 sitting MLAs, including four ministers. So much so its Hindutva poster boy from Alwar, Gyandev Ahuja, too was denied a ticket. This is indicative of the fact that public sentiment was not in favour of these sitting MLAs.
Rajasthan voters have been changing the party in power every five years. Unemployment and the agrarian crisis are turning out to be the biggest poll issues. The Congress has been attacking the Raje government and successfully created a perception that the government failed to generate 15 lakh employment as promised in the last polls. The BJP in its present manifesto has promised to create 50 lakh jobs and also provide ₹5,000 per month unemployment compensation to those eligible. The Congress too has promised ₹3,500 per month compensation to the unemployed youth.
AICC spokesperson Khera said that while PM Modi is not changing his narrative in his rallies, statements such as that given by UP CM Yogi Adityanath is making people laugh. They’re hopeful things will not change in this last week leading up to the polls either.
But is that enough to give the Congress a push? The party’s hopes are high from rural and slum clusters in the cities. It also has an eye on belts such as Jodhpur, Mewar and Kota. However, RPCC president Pilot had claimed that there is a huge surge for the Congress across the entire state.
Yet a bigger threat to the Congress is internal factionalism. The RPCC is known to be divided into two major factions: the Pilot camp and the Gehlot camp. When asked why the Congress chose not to pick between Pilot and Gehlot as a CM candidate, another Congress source said, “The present situation is working in our favour. Pilot has appeal amongst the youth of Rajasthan. Gehlot has a good impression on the older generation.” The source added that had the party picked one of them, they might have lost another advantage.
Or possibly, picking one faction over the other might have broadened the rift in the state unit. When asked if the party would pick Gehlot as CM if they win the polls, an RPCC leader who is also close to Pilot told this correspondent, “There is no possibility of that.The Congress has given everything he [Gehlot] asked for. In the last polls , despite central leadership intervention, Gehlot distributed tickets as per his whims and fancies, and look at what happened to the party. Pilot has revived the Congress from shambles in the last five years.” The Congress went into the 2013 polls under Gehlot’s leadership and was reduced to merely 25 seats.
However, Pilot has vehemently denied reports indicating factionalism in the RPCC, terming them “planted stories”.
Now that opinion polls are suggesting a return of the Congress, its leadership would not want to lose its advantage. Most of its senior leadership has been frequenting Jaipur, including Ahmed Patel.
But how much can the Congress depend on the triple anti-incumbency theory against the BJP? And will it be enough to oust the Raje government? Or has the Congress become complacent in the last phase of campaigning, with its hopes of return completely based on the political history of the state? If that is the case, it might prove lethal as the duo of PM Modi and Shah is known for bettering the saffron brigade’s prospects in the election-bound states in the last leg.