Rajasthan was the last state to go to polls in the Assembly elections that began in November. The state witnessed a record voter turnout of 74.21% on December 7. Polling was held for 199 of the 200 seats of the state Assembly – election to the Ramgarh seat in Alwar district was postponed following the death of Bahujan Samaj Party’s candidate Laxman Singh.
Sporadic incidents of violence were reported from Churu, Bikaner, Sikar, Alwar, Bharatpur and Jaisalmer districts on polling day. A number of vehicles were set ablaze at a booth in Fatehpur and paramilitary forces resorted to firing in Alwar’s Shahjahanpur to bring the situation under control. There were a few reports of Electronic Voting Machines malfunctioning as well. After polling closed, a sealed EVM was found lying on a road in Baran district, following which the Election Commission suspended two polling officials. Congress President Rahul Gandhi had urged party workers to stay on guard to prevent any tampering with EVMs.
The state has traditionally swung between the two main parties, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, and both conducted a high-decibel election campaign. While BJP chief Amit Shah picked up pace in the final leg of campaigning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a total of 13 rallies, the most of any of the five states that went to polls. Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressed 14 rallies.
Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and the party’s senior leadership, particularly Amit Shah, differed on several issues, so much so that the two leaders did not address a single election rally together. Raje also allegedly upset the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh by ignoring them during her tenure and relying more on the bureaucracy. During her tenure, several BJP leaders in the state quit the party and joined the opposition.
Both parties during their campaigns spoke about tackling local issues, with the Congress manifesto targeting women, farmers and unemployed youth, while banking on the discontent with the Raje government. The BJP, meanwhile, said it would continue to provide good governance if it is voted back to power. Raje also claimed that out of the 665 promises the party had made in its 2013 election manifesto, 630 have been fulfilled.
The BJP fielded several new candidates and did not give tickets to as many as 85 sitting MLAs in its first list, leading to significant rebellion. The most high-profile desertion was that of BJP leader Manvendra Singh, son of former Union minister Jaswant Singh, who joined the Congress before the polls.
Manvendra Singh will contest against the chief minister from Jhalrapatan constituency – his presence is expected to give the Congress an edge among Rajputs, who account for 7% of the state’s population. After his departure, the BJP is without a popular Rajput leader – members of the community even threw stones at Raje’s bus during her “Gaurav Yatra” rally in Jodhpur in August. Anti-incumbency against Raje could be one of the main reasons if the BJP does not fare well in the state.
The Congress did not name a candidate for chief minister, but Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot emerged as the two front-runners. There had been rumours of a rift in the party between factions of the two leaders, who held a joint press conference to announce they would both contest the elections. Gehlot had served as chief minister in 1998 and 2008 and has been vocal about his interest in the seat, but the Congress had appointed Pilot its Rajasthan unit chief and it was under his leadership that the party had won the bye-elections in February.
Most exit polls have predicted a clear victory for the Congress. The Times Now-CNX poll predicted that the BJP is likely to win 85 seats and the Congress-led alliance 105. According to the India Today-Axis My India polls, the Congress could capture 119 to 141 seats, with the BJP’s share hovering at the 55-72 mark.
The Congress will believe that its chances of winning Rajasthan greatly increased after the February bye-election results had gone in its favour. But a weak party organisation, with infighting between chief ministerial prospects Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, could dampen its future. If the party contrives to lose the state, amid growing concerns about unemployment and with discontent among farmers and government workers, it could affect its electoral prospects going into the Lok Sabha elections.
The previous elections
The Bharatiya Janata Party came to power with an overwhelming victory in 2013, winning 163 seats and sweeping aside the opposition Congress that managed only 21. The Vasundhara Raje-led government is fighting a tight anti-incumbency race – Rajasthan has voted out the party in power every five years over the last two decades.
In the 2013 elections, the BJP had a thumping majority across the state. The party all but decimated the Congress, who only managed to land 21 seats, of which ten which were won by a margin of less than 5%.
The Vasundhara Raje-led government took 163 seats, of which 42 were won by a margin of over 20%. The BJP, by and large, did not have too many close races.