Rajasthan has a habit of ousting the old and electing the new every five years. On the eve of assembly elections in the state, it’s difficult to say whether history will repeat itself or the state will make a break with the past and give the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a second successive term in power.
The high-voltage campaigns led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi did energise their party cadre. Evidence was sparse, however, of their rhetoric, often directed against each other, swaying voters or making them switch sides.
Barring to a section of the urban intelligentsia, the controversies over the purchase of Rafale jet fighters and AgustaWestland helicopters may have made little sense to a vast majority of voters.
Issues that struck a note of discordance or resonance with voters had their genesis in anti-incumbency and the electorate’s aspirations and expectations. Unemployment was a big issue and so was the water shortage in rain-deficit districts across the desert state where hundreds of thousands of people still live the life Khwaja Ahmed Abbas portrayed in his award-winning 1971 film: Do Boond Pani (two drops of water).
Sustenance issues were preponderant. They seemed to influence the popular mood in district after district. The common concerns were high unemployment and oil prices, water scarcity, drought, remunerative crop prices, and benefits assured but not delivered under various social welfare schemes.
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To be sure, chief minister Vasundhara Raje regime’s Bhamashah card scheme, which promises the transfer of financial and other social welfare benefits directly to women, received praise in the cities. A common refrain, however, was that the urban electorate was pampered at the cost of the rural population. The loudest protests were heard in Barmer.
What cut across the urban-rural divide were caste prejudices; the identity fault lines visible across regions, be it Mewar, Marwar, Shekhawati, Ajmer, Hadoti or Mewat. In specific constituencies, speculators wagered on the Rajput-Jat, Gujjar-Meena, forward-backward caste line-ups.
Besides social identities, iss- ues that engrossed voters were mostly local; not national or state-level except for the latent anger against Raje’s style of wor- king. In Marwar, for example, her decision not to include Jodhpur in the smart city projects evoked the complaint: “She kept it out because [Congress leader] Ashok Gehlot is from this city.”
The absence of strong pan-Rajasthan leaders they could trust has had an impact on specific communities. The Rajputs don’t have one, nor the Jats or the forever quibbling Gujjars and Meenas. Without being candidates, Hanumal Beniwal and Kirorli Lal Meena lent their shoulders to the BJP’s wheel. The former’s task seemed to be to splinter the Jat votes and the latter’s to polarise the Meenas against the Congress, led in the state by Sachin Pilot, who is a Gujjar.
A well-attended rally Modi addressed with Kirori Lal Meena at Dausa in the final phases of campaigning may have sharpened the Meenas’ distrust of Pilot. People in the know said the divide, if it indeed widens, could have an impact on the results in Lalsot, Bandikui, Mahua and Dausa. In these areas, even the Mali caste to which Gehlot belongs, is believed to be BJP-inclined, seeing Pilot’s rise (as the party’s state unit chief) as the former CM’s demotion.
To be sure, even the BJP faces its share of caste issues. Its biggest challenge, however, is to overcome the tangible anti-incumbency against Raje that has been accentuated by her perceived imperiousness, excessive dependence on the bureaucracy and neglect of elected representatives. It was perhaps to negate such perceptions that she started calling herself a sewadarini – a servant of the people—and not the Maharani her rivals make her out to be
First Published: Dec 07, 2018 07:27 IST