December 11. The Congress party will not want to forget this day. And the Bharatiya Janata Party would not like to be reminded of it. This is the first time since the 2014 general elections that the Congress has tasted such major electoral victories, ousting the incumbent BJP governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. While victory in Chhattisgarh can be deciphered as a result of 15 years of anti-incumbency against BJP’s Raman Singh, the question is: what eroded the brute support for Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan?
On the day exit poll results were revealed, AICC secretary and former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot was asked on TV channels who should be credited for the predicted success in Rajasthan. He shrewdly replied that the credit goes to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and incumbent CM Raje — Gandhi for his leadership, and Raje for her misgovernance. Indeed, the anger against Raje’s government did translate into votes for the Congress party and brought a taste of victory for ‘Team Congress’ – which includes the factions of Gehlot and Sachin Pilot and other Congress leaders and workers. While the analysis of these results would continue to come out in the coming days, the following six reasons created a cumulative effect for the ouster of the BJP from power in Rajasthan:
Anti-incumbency against Raje
In 2013, Vasundhara Raje-led BJP had ousted Gehlot from power. The Congress was reduced to mere 21 seats and the BJP clinched 163 Assembly seats. It was the beginning of the Modi wave in the country. However, over the past five-years, Raje became increasingly unpopular across Rajasthan. The Congress had succeeded in making people believe that Raje didn’t communicate with the masses. Former CM Gehlot, even till the end of the campaign, kept on emphasising that Raje put an end to the culture of direct communication with voters of Rajasthan.
A slogan started doing the rounds towards the last leg of campaigning in Rajasthan: Modi tujhse baer nahin hai, Vasundhara teri kher nahin nai (indicating that the simmering anger was against Raje and not Modi). While senior Congress leaders have dubbed it as a slogan propagated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) channels, the Congress’ IT cell too used it in their favour.
Anger in youth owing to unemployment
The BJP had promised 15 lakh jobs when it came to power in 2013. Hopes increased with Narendra Modi’s 2014 campaign which promised two crore job opportunities annually. But the party failed to deliver on its promises. The anger was such that even PM Modi’s speeches during the campaign were unable to address these issues.
During Newslaundry’s coverage of Rajasthan polls, we found that the youth in the state aspire for government jobs. They blamed the Raje government for not filling vacancies in government departments. The Congress tapped this anger. Pilot never eased off the pressure on the BJP government and kept pressing that Raje’s promises on employment were white lies.
To address this crisis, the Raje government did promise to start the recruitment process of 1.08 lakh jobs of 108 types with several government departments. However, it appears these attempts proved to be too little too late. Also, incidents such as recruitment of Vidhan Sabha peons had brought major embarrassment for Raje. Lawyers and chartered accountants had applied for peon jobs at Vidhan Sabha. One of those recruited from a bunch of over 12, 000 applicants was the son of BJP lawmaker.
Notably, the state and the Central leadership of the BJP kept on negating these issues. Even two days before the results were announced, state BJP chief Madan Lal Saini in conversation with Newslaundry had rejected the idea that the youth was angered over the unemployment issue. He instead quoted numbers, saying 26,000 jobs were on hold as the matter is in the court and several thousand were in the pipeline.
Anger in the farming community
Rajasthan has not been in the news for farmers suicides. Pilot-led Congress over past several years carried out a sustained campaign against the Raje government claiming that in the past five years, the state stood witness to 150 farmers’ suicide. On the contrary, the BJP leadership vehemently rejected the claims that the farming community was disillusioned with the BJP.
In February, Rajasthan witnessed a massive farmers’ protest in Sikar demanding complete loan waiver and implementation of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission. Instead of holding a dialogue, the Raje government had reportedly tried to avert the protests by arresting the farmer leaders. These protests were led by All India Kisan Sabha (a farmers’ wing of CPI-M). One of the faces of this protest, Amara Ram, who fought on CPI-M ticket, has clinched Sikar’s Dataramgarh Assembly seat.
The BJP chose to stay in denial mode. The anger against the government over MSP and the farming policy was visible on the ground. For instance, farmers in the Marwar region were forced to sell their garlic produce at as little as Rs 2 per kilogram. Onion producing farmers too had raised similar concerns. However, these voices failed to reach Raje’s administration in Jaipur.
Pilot’s outreach programmes
Sachin Pilot took over the reins of the Congress in Rajasthan when it was in a shambles. The Congress’ prospects in the state changed in the coming years. Under his leadership, the party challenged the BJP in local body polls, panchayat elections and municipality elections. BJP lost at the hands of the Congress in every Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha by-polls after Pilot took over – including the communally-sensitive seat of Alwar.
In the past five years, Pilot ensured his presence in cases of farmers’ suicides, long padyatras, and even in flood-affected areas of Jalore. While the CM Raje was accused of missing from the scene, Pilot captured the local media’s attention. He kept on making scathing attacks on Raje and her government, making him a popular choice amongst the youth of the state.
Even the Congress’ manifesto in Rajasthan was branded as one out-sourced from the common masses which had populist promises – including farmers’ loan waiver in ten days and Rs 3,500 unemployment compensation.
Beniwal, Tiwari and the rebel factor
While both BJP and Congress had to witness several mini-mutinies right after tickets were distributed, the BJP ended up being the biggest loser. It had denied tickets to as many as 43 sitting MLAs – including four ministers. Even the likes of Alwar MLA and Hindutva poster boy of Rajasthan Gyandev Ahuja was denied ticket. While Ahuja’s anger was contained by offering him the state vice-president’s post, the BJP couldn’t manage all its rebels.
The Beniwal and Tiwari factor too hurt the BJP’s prospects. Hanuman Beniwal, who was ousted from the BJP in 2011, won 2013 polls as an independent candidate. In the past five years, he tried to establish himself as a popular Jat leader in the state. Beniwal formed Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) and fielded his own candidates in this election. Ghanshyam Tiwari, BJP rebel and former minister in Raje’s 2003-08 government, had opened fronts against Raje this year. He formed the Bharat Vahini Party and fielded his own candidates.
On the other hand, Beniwal’s party won three seats — including one for Beniwal himself. His party got 2.4 per cent of the total votes polled. Rajasthan BJP vice-president Sunil Kothari had accepted in conversation with Newslaundry that the ticket distribution process which triggered rebellions did dent the BJP’s prospects.
Consolidation of minority vote bank
When the BJP issued the list of its 200 tickets, it did not contain a single Muslim candidate. Even cabinet minister Yunus Khan and sitting BJP MLA Habib-ur-Rehman were denied tickets. Its leadership argued that the tickets were distributed as per the winnability factor. Khan was eventually fielded from Tonk constituency against RPCC president Sachin Pilot. The message was clear: the BJP was continuing its electoral policy that it used in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. The minority community – even in Tonk — chose consolidation.
Muslims form roughly nine per cent of Rajasthan population. The BJP maintained that its Muslim leaders were not good enough to clinch the victory. On the other hand, the Congress had fielded 15 Muslim candidates. One cannot miss the point that seven of the 15 candidates registered a victory on December 11, a nearly 50 per cent success rate. The eighth Muslim candidate to win the polls is Wajib Ali. He fought on the Bahujan Samaj Party ticket (BSP) from Nagar constituency and won the polls by over 25,000 votes. Former Rajasthan Congress chief and a heavyweight leader Ashok Parnami was trailing by 30,000 votes for several rounds. And Congress’ rookie, Rafiq Khan defeated him by over 12,500 votes from Jaipur’s Adarsh Nagar seat.
The Congress, as predicted in the exit polls, has clinched a comfortable majority. However, the party is yet to declare who is going to take the chief minister’s office – Gehlot or Pilot. In Pilot’s favour is his sustained campaign in the last five years focusing on the agrarian crisis and the unemployment issue in Rajasthan. This eventually contributed to bringing to an end the BJP’s honeymoon with the electorate.