The 2023 Rajasthan Assembly elections are just over a month away and the incumbent Congress party is yet to release its first list of candidates.
The Quint has learnt that several smaller state players such as the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP) and Gramin Kisan Mazdoor Samiti (GKS) are in talks with the Congress for a pre-poll seat-sharing alliance. For context, BAP is the political arm of the Bharatiya Adivasi Parivar, an umbrella organisation of tribals in south Rajasthan. The GKS, on the other hand, is a farmers' union active in several districts of north Rajasthan.
"While the central Congress leadership has been engaging with these two outfits, Ashok Gehlot is not convinced. In fact, even Sachin Pilot camp feels that a pre-poll understanding will benefit the party," said a source familiar with the developments.
The source added, "...while the BAP is negotiating for 12-13 seats in the tribal area, Congress only wants to give them four seats. The GKS just wants the party to give tickets to two of their candidates on Congress symbols. Also, if these two come on board, Chandra Shekhar's Azad Samaj Party could also join considering it already has an understanding with them."
Will an Umbrella Alliance Benefit Congress?
In 2018, the BAP contested its first ever elections on six seats in south Rajasthan's tribal dominated areas under the symbol and name of Gujarat-based Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP). They won two seats and finished a close second in some constituencies.
Currently, the party has two MLAs in the Rajasthan Assembly — Rajkumar Roat from Chorasi in Dungarpur and Ram Prasad from Sagwara seat in Banswara district.
In 2023, Rajasthan based tribal groups, previously part of the BTP, floated their own party, BAP, to fight the state Assembly elections. They plan to contest on 17 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) area and nine general seats surrounding them in districts of Udaipur, Dungarpur, Rajsamand, Banswara, and Pratapgarh.
"We have a sizeable influence on at least 26-27 seats in our area. The Congress wants to limit us to four seats. They came to us with a proposal but we rejected it," Mohanlal Roat, BAP's National Convenor told The Quint.
Another source familiar with these negotiations revealed that the Congress high-command is keen on getting BAP on board to include Adivasi leadership in the INDIA bloc which will then benefit them in tribal belts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra.
The GKS, while currently does not have any candidates in the Assembly, is the state's biggest farmers union which was established in 2016. They mobilised support for the farmers protest in Rajasthan. They also led the protests at the Shahjahanpur border. "In the last five years there has been significant farmer mobilisation in north Rajasthan districts of Sri Ganganagar, Hanumangarh, and the newly created district of Anupgarh.
As per sources, Prithwi Pal Singh, an independent candidate supported by the GKS in 2018 from the Karanpur Assembly seat, is likely to contest on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket this time. Singh won 46,000 votes in 2018, pushing BJP to the third spot.
Why is Gehlot Hesitant?
There are three possible reasons behind Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's resistance to such an alliance:
Gehlot does not enjoy cordial terms with the BAP leaders. In September 2020, violence broke out at protests staged by tribal youth demanding recruitment of teachers to vacant posts in the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) area. A state intelligence report then claimed that several "extremist" organisations in the area were trying to "radicalise" the youth. So, even if the tribal leaders come on board, they are likely to support the Sachin Pilot camp.
Rajasthan follows a 'revolving door' government model, which means that that the incumbent government is voted out, each time the state goes to polls. If the Congress gives space to players such as the BAP, GKS, and Azad Samaj Party — who have the same core voter base as the Congress — they might permanently eat into that space. Hence, the chances of Congress forming a government on its own in the future might significantly reduce.
As per sources, Gehlot feels that a better option is to pluck the winning candidates of these parties and field them on Congress tickets or get them to defect Congress after the election results. In 2018, six winning MLAs of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) later joined the Congress.
History of a 'Third Front' in Rajasthan
The Rajasthan politics post the 2000s has been dominated by only two parties — Congress and BJP. The state, however, has a long history of electing sizeable number of Independents and third-front candidates.
The first and the second state Assemblies had 35 and 32 Independents. In 1962, 36 candidates of the third front and 22 Independents were elected. In 1967, the number of third front candidates went up to 48 whereas 16 Independents were voted to power.
In 1985, Lok Dal won 27 seats, and 10 seats went to Independents. Similarly, in 1990, the third front won 55 seats, while eight seats went to the Independents.