Why BJP will struggle to repeat their clean sweep in Rajasthan in 2024

The BJP faces stiff competition in several key constituencies, including Dausa, Nagaur, Churu, Sikar and Jhunjhunu.
A voter smiles as she shows identity card during an election in Rajasthan. (File Photo | PTI)
A voter smiles as she shows identity card during an election in Rajasthan. (File Photo | PTI)

As June 4 draws near in Rajasthan, everyone is discussing overtime how the BJP and Congress have performed in this bi-polar state. The central question is whether BJP will be able to repeat the clean sweep that it recorded in Rajasthan in 2014 and 2019 elections.

The buzz is that it can't as the Congress is reportedly set for a strong showing in about five to six seats and quite competitive in an additional four to five seats.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in fact, recently acknowledged in an interview that the BJP may face losses in Rajasthan. Meanwhile, former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and former deputy CM Sachin Pilot have both claimed that the Congress will secure double-digit seats.

This confidence in the Congress camp stems from a noticeable decrease in voter turnout.

Voting in Rajasthan decreased by approximately 5.85% in the first phase and by 3.39% in the second phase compared to 2019, with an average decline of 4.62%. Despite riding on the wave of issues like the removal of Article 370 from Kashmir and the Ram Mandir, the BJP was surprised by the lower voting percentage.

In response to the poor voter turnout in the first phase, the BJP high command took immediate action, summoning state organization leaders and urged them to boost voter participation. While there was an increase in voter turnout in the next phase, it remained lower than in 2019.

To defend its seats, the BJP deployed its top leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to campaign vigorously in Rajasthan. The party is banking on PM Modi’s popularity, and emphasized his guarantees and the Ram Temple construction, while criticizing the Congress for its alleged appeasement politics and corruption during its previous tenures.

In contrast, the Congress campaign focused on economic issues such as inflation and unemployment while harping on its Nyay patra. The party also raised concerns about the misuse of central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), framing the narrative as a threat to democracy and the Constitution.

Experts suggest that the election in Rajasthan was fought more on local issues, candidate profiles and caste dynamics rather than religious and nationalist themes, potentially weakening the BJP’s traditional campaign strategies.

Vasundhara Raje Scindia and the turmoil within the BJP

The BJP faces stiff competition in several key constituencies, including Dausa, Nagaur, Churu, Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Barmer, Banswara, Bharatpur, Jalore,Karauli-Dholpur, Kota, and Tonk Sawai Madhopur. Of these, Congress appears particularly strong in the first five.

The main reason being cited for the decline in BJP's support is the weakening of the "Modi magic." Additionally, sidelining former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia may also prove costly for the BJP.

In the last assembly elections, the BJP broke from tradition by contesting under Modi's leadership instead of Raje's and won. Since then, efforts have been made to marginalise Raje and her supporters, evident in ticket distribution during the assembly elections, cabinet formation, and Lok Sabha ticket allocation.

Experts suggest that Raje is very upset with this and hence distanced herself from the election campaign, focusing solely on the Jhalawar seat where her son Dushyant Singh contested.

Furthermore, there is resentment among various factions within the BJP, particularly over appointing first-time MLA Bhajan Lal Sharma as Chief Minister. Agriculture Minister Kirodilal Meena has openly expressed his displeasure multiple times. Consequently, the BJP is likely to suffer from internal turmoil, which may not be as publicly visible as it can be in the Congress camp, but can nevertheless impact their Lok Sabha prospects.

A voter smiles as she shows identity card during an election in Rajasthan. (File Photo | PTI)
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Rivals the BJP could have done without

Apart from this, the BJP also failed to gauge the political mood in many constituencies.

The Churu seat is a prime example, where the BJP faced its first rebellion of this election. Due to a conflict with senior leader Rajendra Rathore, the party cancelled the ticket of its sitting MP Rahul Kaswan and selected Paralympic athlete Devendra Jhajharia as its candidate. Kaswan, angered by this decision, chose to run on a Congress ticket. As a result, the Churu seat has become a significant challenge for the BJP, potentially deciding the future of Rajendra Rathore along with the party's prospects.

Similarly, sources indicate that independent MLA Ravindra Singh Bhati, who sought a ticket from Barmer-Jaisalmer for the Lok Sabha elections, was denied his chance by the BJP. Consequently, Bhati contested the election as an independent candidate, posing a significant challenge to Union Agriculture Minister Kailash Chaudhary. It is speculated that the BJP's prospects are bleak in this constituency, where Chaudhary may even finish third, with Umedaram Beniwal contesting from Congress.

Additionally, the BJP left no stone unturned in marginalizing Raje's close aide and influential Gurjar leader Prahlad Gunjal in the Kota seat. In response, Gunjal challenged Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla by running on a Congress ticket, presenting a formidable challenge to him.

Similarly, in the assembly elections in Chittorgarh, the BJP canceled the ticket of Chandrabhan Akya due to his enmity with state president CP Joshi. Akya went on to win the assembly elections as an independent candidate.

However, Akya neither contested the Lok Sabha elections himself nor fielded any of his supporters. Nonetheless, sources suggest that his group has been actively working to create an unfavorable atmosphere for BJP candidate CP Joshi in this election.

Other factors that could have worked against the BJP

The BJP has also struggled to grasp the caste dynamics in the state.

The Nagaur seat exemplifies this issue. Hanuman Beniwal, the RLP supremo who was allied with the NDA in the last elections, has formed an alliance with Congress this time. This shift has caused Jat voters in Central and Western Rajasthan to lean towards the Congress party.

Political experts also point out that many MPs from Rajasthan who secured positions in the central cabinet have lost touch with their constituencies.

Despite becoming ministers, there was relatively little development work carried out by them, leading to public dissatisfaction. For instance, in Jodhpur, Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat faces a tough challenge from Congress' Karan Singh Uchirada.

The BJP's slogan of "400 paar" (crossing 400 seats) has also backfired in Rajasthan.

Deputy Chief Minister Diya Kumari and Nagaur candidate Jyoti Mirdha were among the first leaders to discuss major constitutional changes if 400 seats were secured. This created fear among the SC and ST communities about potential cuts in government job reservations.

Sources indicate that government employees from these communities warned their people in every village about this concern. As a result, SC and ST communities, along with Muslims, appear to be deserting the BJP on a large scale. This shift is evident in the Banswara seat, where MLA Rajkumar Raut, the BAP candidate aligned with Congress, is challenging BJP's Mahendrajit Singh Malviya.

Another noteworthy aspect is that internal divisions within the Congress, especially the Gehlot-Pilot rift, did not surface openly during this election. The Congress party has reaped the benefits of this unity.

Tale the numbers from the past tell

However, in the previous Lok Sabha election, the victory margin between the BJP and Congress stood at 24.41% of the votes.

In 2019, the BJP secured a vote share of 59.01%, while Congress garnered 34.6%.

Given this scenario, without significantly denting the BJP's voter base, it is unlikely that Congress will see a substantial increase in the number of seats.

To know if India's grand old party has done so, we will have to wait till June 4.

A voter smiles as she shows identity card during an election in Rajasthan. (File Photo | PTI)
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