Fate of 2 CMs, Hindutva, Caste: What's at Stake as Rajasthan Votes on 25 Nov?

Seats, candidates, and political trends to watch out for as Rajasthan gears up to vote for the Assembly elections.

Hindi Female

As the campaigning for a high profile Rajasthan election comes to an end, the state's 200 assembly constituencies are all set to vote on 25 November.

While the Congress party's campaign focused on the report card of the Ashok Gehlot government, the CM's key welfare schemes, and promises such as that of a state-wide caste census, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tried to corner the ruling party on issues like corruption, paper leaks, and the law and order situation in the state.

A crucial test for several big names in Indian politics such as incumbent Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, and former Deputy Chief Minister and Pradesh Congress Committee Chief (PCC) Sachin Pilot, the results of this election will be a critical to understand how feudal power equations, Hindutva politics, and caste equations continue to impact people and politics in India's largest state.

Here are the key seats, candidates, and political trends to watch out for as the people of Rajasthan gear up to vote:


A Test for the 'Maharani' and the 'Magician'

This, by far, is the most crucial election for both Ashok Gehlot and Vasundhara Raje — two leaders who've dominated the state politics over the last two decades.

Right after he assumed office after winning the 2018 state elections, reports of a rift between Gehlot and his then deputy and popular Congress leader Sachin Pilot started doing the rounds. In July 2020, the rift was wide open in public after Pilot, along with several other MLAs, flew down to Delhi and allegedly attempted to topple the Gehlot-led Congress government. While Pilot rubbished reports of joining the BJP, Gehlot levelled allegations of horse-trading on the saffron party.

The entire episode culminated in Gehlot winning the trust vote on the floor of the house. While Pilot stayed with the Congress party, since then Gehlot has the run the government as a 'one-man' show.

Even in the run-up to the polls, the entire Congress campaign was centred around Gehlot with little hype built around other leaders.

For former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, daughter of Gwalior's Scindia family and formerly married to the Maharaja of Dholpur, this is an election of survival. Undeniably the most popular BJP leader in the state, Raje was sidelined by the party high command throughout the campaign.


Hindutva Vs Welfare

After months of campaigning, the election discourse in Rajasthan, towards the end pivoted on two main factors with the BJP pitching Hindutva politics against Congress' welfare schemes.

Star campaigners of the saffron party including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited the state and accused the Congress of "Muslim appeasement".

For instance, PM Modi in his rally on 2 October said, “Did you ever imagine something like what happened in Udaipur? Such a big sin took place in the land of Rajasthan. They (the murderers) come on the pretext of getting clothes sewn and then cut the tailor’s neck without fear, and then proudly make the video go viral. And the Congress government is worried about the vote bank even in that.”

Similarly, the UP CM, while addressing a rally in Bhilwara on 22 November, raised the pitch for 'ram rajya', promised free visit to the Ram Temple being built in in Ayodhya, and targeted the Congress over deaths of sadhus in Rajasthan. "While a large number of Ram Navami processions take place in Uttar Pradesh, people in Rajasthan face curfews and riots. Sadhus are murdered here but the state government has failed to do anything," the CM said.

The Congress campaign, on the other hand, was largely centered around welfare schemes and new guarantees announced during the poll campaign.


Caste Dynamics

One of the many pitches by the Congress party if voted back into power is the promise to conduct a caste census. The BJP, with an aim to oust the Congress, has relied on caste arithmetic in ticket distribution.

As per an analysis by The Indian Express, the BJP has fielded 60 OBC (Other Backward Classes) candidates that account for 30 percent of the party’s total nominees in this election. The BJP leaders from the Jat community, which is the most dominant OBC group in Rajasthan, have got 31 tickets, while other relatively smaller OBC groups such as Yadav, Kumawat, Bishnoi, Saini, Patel, Nagar, Ravana Rajput and Dhakad have got 29 tickets.

In line with the state's revolving door voting pattern, which means that the incumbent is voted out each time, political loyalties of caste groups in Rajasthan are not rigid.

While the Jat community saw their votes split between Congress and BJP in 2008 and 2013, in 2018, a sizable chunk backed Hanuman Beniwal's Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP). The Gujjars, traditionally BJP voters, voted for Congress in 2018 as they rallied behind community leader Sachin Pilot.

Rajasthan has a total of 59 reserved seats, 34 are for scheduled castes (SC) and 25 for scheduled tribes (ST). As per data, the Congress failed to secure a single SC-reserved seat in the 2013 Assembly election and the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The BJP, on the other hand, won as many as 32 and 33 seats out of the total 34 seats reserved for SC communities, respectively. The party has also dominated in most ST-reserved seats.

In 2018, the Congress won 19 SC-reserved seats and 12 ST-reserved seats.

Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Chandrashekhar Azad's Azad Samaj Party have some influence among SC voters while the Bharatiya Adivasi Party is trying to make its presence felt among tribals. In 2018, the BSP won six seats. Though all six BSP MLAs later defected to Congress.


Seats and Candidates to Watch Out For

While all 200 seats in Rajasthan are hotly contested, battles on some high-profile seats will be interesting to watch out for:

  • Sardarpura: A Congress bastion in Jodhpur district, incumbent CM Ashok Gehlot is a four time MLA from this seat. In 2018, he defeated BJP's Shambhu Singh in a landslide victory securing over 60 percent votes.

  • Tonk: The seat of Congress leader Sachin Pilot, Tonk has a significant Gujjar, Meena, and Muslim population. This time Pilot is up against BJP's Ajit Mehta. Earlier, the BJP appointed Delhi MP Ramesh Budhuri, who shouted anti-Muslim slurs in the Parliament, as the Tonk district-in-charge.

  • Jhalrapatan: A BJP bastion and seat of Vasundhara Raje, Jhalrapatan falls under the  Jhalawar district and Hadoti region of the state. Raje has won from this seat since 2003. In 2018 she bagged 54 percent votes to defeat Congress' Manvendra Singh. Manvendra Singh, son of late BJP veteran Jaswant Singh is contesting from Siwana in his native district of Barmer.

  • Udaipur: An important seat in the Mewar region, the BJP has won this seat since 2003. Though the party's winning candidate Gulab Chand Kataria has now been appointed of Assam and it has announced Tarachand Jain as the new candidate. He will take on Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh.

  • Taranagar: Churu's Taranagar constituency is set for a battle between BJP's Rajendra Rathore and Congress' Narendra Budhania. Rathore is the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly. In Taranagar, Congress has won six out of 10 Assembly elections, whereas the BJP and Janata Dal have won two each. Rathore has earlier won on a Janata Dal ticket.

  • Nathdwara: In Nathdwara, a constituency in Rajsamand district, BJP has fielded Vishwaraj Singh, a descendent of Maharana Pratap to take on state Assembly speaker and Congress veteran CP Joshi.

  • Lakshmangarh: Rajasthan Congress Chief Govind Dotasra is contesting this election from party fortress Lakshmangarh. A three-time MLA, Dotasra been the state Congress chief since Sachin Pilot was removed after his revolt in 2020. A crucial seat in Sikar district, Congress has won Lakshmangarh since 2008.

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