Over the past 20 years, Rajasthan has witnessed an interesting phenomenon. The party in power in the state assembly has won the most seats in the Lok Sabha election. This has been the case in the three general elections held after 1999. The BJP, which won the 2013 assembly election, swept all 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014. Now, both the BJP and the Congress, which runs a three-month-old government in the state, are tweaking their strategies and looking to maximise their gains.
A common hunting ground for both parties are the votes Independents and others won in the state polls. In the closely contested 2018 assembly election, Independents and others cornered 22 per cent of the vote share, winning 27 seats. The Congress’s 38.8 per cent vote share was just 0.5 percentage points more than the BJP’s, but it got 100 seats-27 more than the BJP’s tally of 73.
The BJP is betting on its prime campaigner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to net this elusive 22 per cent vote share. “In the aftermath of the air strikes in Balakot, we will get most of this 22 per cent vote and will even eat into the Congress’s share,” claims Gajendra Singh Khimsar, a minister in the erstwhile Vasundhara Raje government.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and state Congress president Sachin Pilot have been working to get the support of the Independents. On March 26, they got 12 of the Independent MLAs to support them as ‘associate members’. But for the anti-defection law, they would have joined the Congress. The party is also hard-selling Rahul Gandhi’s Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY), or minimum income guarantee scheme, in a bid to project itself as a people-centric party and blunt the BJP’s post-Balakot nationalistic pitch. Gehlot has already showered sops across the board, such as a loan waiver for farmers and announcing that compensation for the families of soldiers killed in action would be doubled to Rs 50 lakh. He has said that pension for soldiers and war widows from World War II would be more than doubled, from Rs 4,000 per month to Rs 10,000.
Both parties have heavily relied on experience, influence and party management of old-timers in the selection of candidates. One contest that will be watched most keenly is the political debut of Gehlot’s son Vaibhav, contesting the Jodhpur seat on a Congress ticket. Vaibhav is pitted against Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, sitting MP and Union minister for state. He was PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah’s nominee for the post of state BJP president last year, but his appointment was stymied by Raje.
Caste equations remain a prime consideration in deciding candidates. Scheduled Castes, Jats, Meenas, Brahmins and Rajputs can influence the outcome in two-thirds of the seats. The Congress believes it has a trump card in the Muslims, who it hopes will vote for it en masse. The BJP, meanwhile, is trying to regain the Rajput influence it lost during the assembly election. In this close contest, every vote matters.