NEW DELHI – Jubilation over an opportunity to form government in Rajasthan appears short-lived for the Congress. Edging out the incumbent BJP in Rajasthan assembly elections appears shaky within couple of days of the results for the assembly polls being declared.
The Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president Sachin Pilot’s followers of his caste, Gurjar, are on roads showing anger over a likely denial of chief ministership to the young leader.
The Congress managed 99 seats out of 199 that went to polls. Election for one seat was postponed due to death of a candidate. One seat was won by a Congress pre-poll ally Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). The century-old party, the Congress, is likely to secure a simple majority by seeking support of its own rebels.
Despite securing a thin margin of just 1.27 lakh votes over the BJP out of 45 million voters in the desert state, the Congress appears on a sticky wicket for the Lok Sabha elections. The caste conflict within the Congress can scare away the advantage of just 1.27 lakh votes.
The BJP holds all 25 seats in Rajasthan in Parliament. If Pilot and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s rivalry does not spill over to streets, the Congress can put up a tough fight to the BJP in May 2019 parliamentary elections. If not, the BJP has a good chance to succeed in Rajasthan despite a loss in the assembly elections.
It does not mean the BJP has not seen erosion in its vote share. The pre-Parliament polls loss to the Congress will also prod the BJP to prepare better for the national polls. The difference of vote share is just half a per cent in Rajasthan.
The people of Rajasthan have been changing governments, with the BJP and the Congress taking turns.
The BJP has lost heavily in terms of seats but is still very close to the Congress, securing 73 seats, in the Assembly polls. As many as 27 others have been elected, including six from Bahujan Samaj Party, two Communists, four from a party of Jat community, one from a tribal party and rest as independents.
The Rajasthan general assembly election is generally no different from the clash of castes over chief ministership. The incumbent in Rajasthan has been losing elections apparently due to a competition of castes. Such is this competition of castes that every large community, like Jat, Rajput, Gurjar and Meena, wants the chief minister from their respective communities and castes.
Most interesting is that even political parties put up candidates as per a caste calculation. So, state and national leaders have a limitation of getting a community to transfer votes.
There are parties in Rajasthan which ask for votes just in the name of a caste or community. Such parties harm both major parties. The party opposing the incumbent loses more in this process as the anti-vote gets diverted.
A tribal party of Dungarpur, BSP mostly in eastern Rajasthan adjoining Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and the Hanuman Beniwal-led outfit, have taken away 10 seats. A party of tribals has also secured two seats. The rest of the seats have been won by independents due to caste combinations.
Question arises then: was it an undercurrent against one party or in favor of another?
Rajasthan is one state where no single caste is in a position to dominate politics. Rise of one caste, especially a martial one like Gurjars, Jats, Rajputs and Meenas, polarizes other castes against them. Development and economic factors sharpens that divide as it is a fight of social hierarchies based on economic growth of a particular community and jobs the youth of a particular caste has got.
Government jobs are the most favorite. Quota in jobs and education has been a bone of contention. Gurjars have been demanding a quota in Scheduled Tribes category as against their existing Other Backward Castes (OBCs).
In urban areas, the BJP may have lost because of demonetisation and so-called inaccessibility of the chief minister.
(Sanjay Sharma is Editor-in-Chief of News India channel)