The desert wears a saffron hue

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Driver’s seat Vasundhara Raje greeted by her supporters after the BJP won handsomely in the Assembly polls, Photo: Vinita Saini
Driver’s seat Vasundhara Raje greeted by her supporters after the BJP won handsomely in the Assembly polls. Photo: Vinita Saini

All eyes are on 2014 now. No psephologist could have predicted the landslide victory for the BJP in the Rajasthan Assembly election. Of the 199 seats that went to polls, the ruling Congress could scrape through in only 21; the BJP got 162. That’s more than four out of five. Although both parties have alternatively enjoyed wins in the past, yet, no one could have foreseen the complete annihilation of the Congress, not even the BJP.

The jury is still not out as to what the Congress did wrong. The central leadership had put all its weight behind the state unit. Manmohan Singh, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi had all campaigned vigorously. Even the budget presented by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was seen as an out-and-out winner. By reducing the age for pensioners and doing away with red tape in producing employment certificates, Gehlot had apparently played the populist card well. Additionally, the upcoming Barmer refinery project was supposed to be a money-spinner and create a lot of jobs. The state exchequer had the cushion to absorb all the social schemes he was doling out. Then what went wrong?

For one, there was the communal situation. In the Congress’ five-year rule, the state saw 46 communal riots, including the Gopalgarh flare-up. On 14 September 2011, a land dispute blew up into a full-fledged bloodbath when eight Muslims lost their lives to police firing inside a mosque in Gopalgarh, a town 80 km from Bharatpur. The Muslims, who constitute about 10 percent of the total population of Rajasthan, blamed the Gehlot government for this and as a result, the Congress lost the trust of one of its most reliable support base.

In an adverse situation, alienating a traditional voter base could cost any party dear. Durru Mian, a minister in the Gehlot government from the Muslim-dominated constituency of Tijara, lost his seat. But, what will hurt the Congress more is that two Muslim candidates of the BJP won elections. Compared to the past five years, the Vasundhara Raje tenure from 2003-2008 was by and large peaceful, barring a few skirmishes.

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Other communities like the Jats and the Meenas, who account for 16 percent and 12 percent of the population respectively, also did not go with the Congress. On December 2011, Jat leader and former water resources minister Mahipal Maderna was arrested in the infamous Bhanwari Devi murder scandal. A sizeable section of Jats believes that Maderna fell into a trap orchestrated by the Congress. The fact that Gehlot dropped him from his Cabinet like a hot potato as soon as the scandal broke out did not help.

The Congress was banking on Meena votes to carry them to safety, a calculation that fell apart. Led by their leader and former BJP member Kirori Lal Meena, the National People’s Party (NPP) was supposed to split the Meena votes, but as results started pouring in, it became obvious that reality belied calculations. Of the 150 candidates it fielded, the NPP could manage to win only four; the Meenas too had placed their trust in the BJP.

Making matters worse, many senior Congress leaders could not hold on to their seats. While former home minister Shanti Dhariwal lost from Kota North, Bina Kak, the television face of the Gehlot government, lost her seat of Sumerpur. Even state Congress chief Chandrabhan lost his constituency of Mandya.

Part of the rout could also be put to infighting. A particular incident is telling of this. Before the Rajasthan polls were announced, a meeting was held in Delhi with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, CM Gehlot, general secretary incharge of Rajasthan Gurudas Kamat and AICC general secretary CP Joshi, also from Rajasthan. According to sources, Joshi prevailed upon Rahul to keep Gehlot’s role in the decision-making process to a minimum. Rahul reportedly even snubbed Gehlot in front of everybody. A very shaken Gehlot left the meeting. In private conversations, Congress leaders admit that things came to such a head that general secretary Kamat had to intervene and ask Joshi to back off.

On the other hand, the BJP was riding heavily on the success of the Suraj Sankalp Yatra of Vasundhara Raje. The yatra was timed to perfection and started well in advance to reap any anti-Congress feeling among the people. The RSS too put in their weight behind the party and appointed central leaders to ensure that all issues within were resolved and a united stand was put up. That came out best in the cases of Gulabchand Kataria and Ghanshyam Tewari.

Kataria, a home minister in Vasundhara’s previous government, had fallen out with the former chief minister. Tewari, a former education minister, was considered the No 2 in the state BJP because of his seniority and clout and this had not particularly endeared him to Vasundhara. Despite having strong reasons to not support her, at least not publicly, both Kataria and Tewari were seen standing behind Vasundhara during the election.

Interestingly, yoga guru and recent political- dabbler Baba Ramdev had a part to play in bringing the chicken home to roost. For the birthday of Tewari’s grandson, Ramdev organised a yoga shivir (camp). Party insiders say the camp was organised so that Ramdev could spend some time with Tewari to persuade him to bury the hatchet with Vasundhara. The trick worked as Tewari did not challenge Vasundhara’s leadership during the entire election period.

BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi also did his bit. He addressed his first public rally in the state as early as August, when the Suraj Sankalp Yatra was coming to an end.

Historically, Rajasthan has voted on the same lines for Lok Sabha and the state Assembly. The Congress currently holds 20 of the 25 seats from the state, while the BJP has four. Sachin Pilot, Sis Ram Ola, Jyoti Mirdha, Girija Vyas, CP Joshi and Harish Chaudhary are some of the bigger names for the party. The biggest worry for them now is to hold on to their respective seats in 2014. With the crushing mandate that has been delivered against them, they are definitely riding against the public mood. The BJP, on the other hand, is buoyant and seeks to increase its tally considerably. As said earlier, all eyes are now on 2014.

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