By Dushyant Shekhawat Dec. 07, 2018
The political landscape in Rajasthan currently resembles a minefield. As the election goes down to the wire, unemployment, religious polarisation, and anti-incumbency might cause BJP to lose the state.
In 2013, the Congress government in Rajasthan was staring down the barrel. An energetic opposition, led by the BJP, was able to make the most of Rajasthan’s reputation as a seesaw state, and sweep the election with a majority. Of the 200 seats in the Vidhan Sabha, the BJP won 160, and was able to restore Vasundhara Raje as CM, a post she earlier held between 2003 and 2008. Five years later, the tables might have turned. This time, it’s the BJP government with a target painted on its back as Rajasthan goes to polls, and the Congress that’s mounting a challenge to form a new government.
As the votes are being counted, the Congress has predictably taken the lead, but a clear majority is by no means in the bag. The manifestos released by both Congress and BJP in the run-up are a good indicator of the number of problems the incoming government will have to face: From farmers’ issues over Minimum Support Price and loan waivers, the matter of overhauling the education infrastructure and syllabus, and the omnipresent cow politics, the political landscape in Rajasthan resembles a minefield. In this minefield, a misstep for either party could prove disastrous, and there have been three factors which are especially influential in this election.
The first is an issue which concerns not only Rajasthan, but the whole country, especially in the wake of Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh’s murder over cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh, and it is the rise of the Hindu hardliners. Alwar district in Rajasthan is where Pehlu Khan was lynched by a mob of gau rakshaks in what was one of the first high-profile cases of cow vigilantism to rock the nation. Since that fateful day, Rajasthan has begun to resemble a hotbed of fundamentalist violence, with fringe outfits like the Rajput Karni Sena gaining political and social currency by threatening artistes (they threatened to chop off Deepika Padukone’s nose for acting in Padmaavat) and grisly executions in the name of fighting love jihad like we saw in Rajsamand last December. As religious tolerance continues to plummet, neither party seems to be over-eager to resuscitate secularism.
Both BJP and Congress are predictably indulging in cow politics. While the Congress promised to increase the subsidy allotted to gaushalas, the BJP has also declared its intent to put up additional gau raksha chowkies across the state. Both parties have also announced that they will emphasise Sanskrit and Vedic learning when it comes to education. Who said only minorities could benefit from appeasement politics? The Congress appears willing to match its “soft Hindutva” against the BJP’s hardline brand, rather than attempt an alternative to a strategy that has yielded results for their opponents.
Allegations of corruption against Raje from her own party member Ghanshyam Tiwari in June this year has not helped her image in the eyes of the public.
The second key factor which appears to be crucial for both parties is employment, or rather, the lack of it. Perhaps the increase in the number of bands of angry young men roving through the state in lynch mobs is also tied in to the widespread unemployment. (According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, Rajasthan has the fifth-highest unemployment rate out of all 29 Indian states). While both Rahul Gandhi and PM Modi were holding rallies in the state promising a bright future, four young men jumped in front of a train in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, ending their lives. Their friends latest told the police the four entered into a suicide pact after becoming depressed over their dismal job prospects.
After this incident, do we even need the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report confirming that CM Raje’s government had failed to meet its own targets when it came to employment programmes? This is something the Opposition has not failed to capitalise on, with Congress leader Sachin Pilot attacking Raje for claiming to have provided 44 lakh jobs during her time in power. “I challenge them to publish the names of these 44 lakh lucky individuals. I’d like to personally call and congratulate them,” he said, in an interview with The Wire. The BJP has responded by emphasising more on employment in its manifesto, promising five million jobs in the private sector over the next five years, along with 30,000 government jobs every year, and an unemployment allowance of ₹5,000 per month.
Finally, there is Rajasthan’s history as a seesaw state. The BJP controlled the government from 2003 to 2008, the Congress from 2008 to 2013, and then it reverted to BJP again. The Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha is a hotly contested house, where the electorates notorious anti-incumbency tendencies tend to favour an Opposition that has ammunition to attack the government. Last year, Raje’s government passed an ordinance, the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill 2017, which proposed to bar courts from taking up cases against ministers and government officials without government sanction, and also barred media from reporting on it. This bill had to be withdrawn after the Opposition skewered her government for passing it. Raje’s government also made the unpopular decision to shut down thousands of schools across the state, merging their student bodies into larger institutions. Allegations of corruption against Raje from her own party member Ghanshyam Tiwari in June this year has not helped her image in the eyes of the public.
There are plenty of chinks in the BJP government’s armour, and this election might find them exposed.