Rajasthan Result: Why Congress Lost & BJP Won Local Body Polls
It’s not just the Gehlot-Pilot rivalry, factional divisions are afflicting the Congress even at the grassroots level
The BJP's victory in the Panchayat Samiti and Zila Parishad elections in Rajasthan is important for three reasons:
1. Traditionally, the ruling party is supposed to do well
- This is the first time in 15 years that the ruling party will have lesser members in the rural local bodies than the Opposition. In Panchayat Samiti elections, 1989 BJP candidates won, against 1852 of the Congress. In 2015, it was 2960 for the BJP and 2490 for the Congress.
- In percentage terms, the BJP won 45.5 percent of the seats against 42.4 percent of the Congress. In 2015 it was 51 percent for the BJP and 41 percent for the Congress.
- In terms of Zila Parishad seats, the BJP won 56 percent of the seats against 40 percent of the Congress. In 2015, it was 62 percent and 37 percent respectively.
- The BJP is set to secure a majority in 13 districts and the Congress 5. The two parties are tied in Barmer, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party holds the key in Nagaur and Independents backed by the Bharatiya Tribal Party in Dungarpur.
2. Congress Factionalism
It comes at a time when the Congress in Rajasthan is undergoing an internal churn due to the factional rivalries between CM Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot.
3. Farm Laws
The BJP is likely to consider this an endorsement of its farm laws and as a sign that the farmers’ protests aren't harming it in rural areas, especially as a few farmers' groups from Rajasthan are also participating in the agitation.
This article will try to answer five questions:
- Why did the Congress perform poorly?
- What will the results mean for the Congress in the context of its factional rivalries?
- What does it mean for the BJP?
- What does this mean in the context of the farm laws?
- What is the big picture?
Why Did Cong Perform Poorly?
The Congress has secured a majority only in five districts: Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Hanumangarh, Banswara and Pratapgarh. There are several reasons for its poor performance, some to do with its weakness in Rajasthan and some factors beyond its control.
Many Districts Left Out
The explanation been given by the Congress is that elections weren't held in the entire state and that many areas where the Congress is strong, didn't vote.
Elections weren’t held in 12 out of 33 districts as there is litigation over the delimitation of seats.
It is true that the Congress is stronger in some of these 12 districts: such as CM Ashok Gehlot's home district Jodhpur, Dausa where Sachin Pilot is said to hold influence and eastern districts like Alwar, Bharatpur, Jaipur and Sawai Madhopur, where the Congress is supposed to be stronger.
However, even some BJP strongholds didn't vote – such as Dholpur, the home of the royal family BJP leader Vasundhara Raje is married into, or Baran that is represented in Parliament by her son Dushyant Singh.
All in all, the Congress may have suffered a slight disadvantage because of this but even if one factors that in, it is still a worse performance than was expected from a party in power in the state.
Gains By Smaller Parties Like BTP and RLP
The Congress may have lost some of its traditional votes to smaller parties like the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party of Hanuman Beniwal and Bharatiya Tribal Party led by Adivasi leader from Gujarat Chhotubhai Vasava.
Traditionally, the Jat community has supported the Congress in Rajasthan and they are leading the protest against the new farm laws in Haryana, Rajasthan and Western UP. Beniwal's RLP took a strong stand against the laws and even threatened to pull out of the NDA.
It may have won over a major chunk of Jat votes, especially in the Shekhawati region. The RLP won 56 Panchayat Samiti seats and may now play kingmaker in Nagaur and Barmer.
The BTP may have harmed the Congress in the Bhil concentration areas in Southern Rajasthan. With 13 BTP backed independents winning in Dungarpur district, it is likely to get a majority.
The main reason for the Congress' poor performance was factionalism. The party may have prevented an outright rebellion by Sachin Pilot and his supporters but relations between the Pilot and Gehlot factions is far from cordial.
Despite assurances, the CM and PCC president Govind Singh Dotasra, a Gehlot loyalist, didn't quite keep Pilot in the loop over major decisions.
But the infighting isn’t just because of the Gehlot-Pilot rivalry. Factional divisions have taken over the party from the grassroots level itself. In many places the party lost due to differences between competing groups.
The poor performance of the Congress cut across factions.
The party performed poorly in Dotasra's home district Sikar, Tonk that is represented by Pilot in the Assembly as well as Ajmer that is represented by senior leader Raghu Sharma.
What Do The Results Mean For Congress?
Soon after the results, Dotasra reached out to Pilot, supposedly due to the central leadership's push. Apparently, the need for better coordination has been stressed.
However, it does appear that unless there is a major change either in the leadership it itself or at least in the style of functioning, this confusion is likely to continue and harm the Congress.
The party may also need to carry out a major outreach to win back its support among Jats and Adivasis and maybe even try to strike an alliance with the BTP, which may also help it in Gujarat. It may also want to bring the Left parties on board as well.
However, a great deal depends on what happens to the Congress' central leadership. More on that when we discuss the big picture.
What Do the Results Mean for BJP?
The Vasundhara Raje faction of the Rajasthan BJP has now become emboldened and is calling for snapping ties with the RLP whose leader Hanuman Beniwal has been a vocal critic of the former CM.
However, it may need RLP’s help to get the in Barmer and Nagaur and also to contain the disaffection among Jats due to the farm laws.
The BJP's central leadership as well as state leaders Satish Poonia and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, may not want a return to complete dominance of Raje and the tussle between the former CM and the central leadership is likely to continue.
What Do the Results Mean in the Context of the Farm Laws?
The BJP is naturally going to town claiming that the results represent "farmers' trust in PM Modi" and an endorsement of the farm laws. It would be particularly happy about the results in places like Sikar, that have traditionally been the heart of farmers' agitations in Rajasthan.
However, had it not been for the Congress’ infighting and the presence of RLP and the Left, much of the disaffected farmers may have overwhelmingly voted for the Congress.
Therefore, it would not be accurate to consider the results an endorsement of the farm laws. But yes, the BJP may be right in its assessment that the political costs outside of Punjab, Haryana and parts of West UP may not be that high.
The Big Picture
The big picture, however, is that the result ties into a broader national trend of the Congress performing poorly in direct contests with the BJP, especially in the Hindi heartland.
This was evident in the recent bypolls in states like Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat as well as seats in Bihar where the two parties squared off against each other.
The problem for the party is the lack of leadership that has the capacity to win over voters floating BJP voters and completely consolidate disgruntled sections such as farmers and tribals.
In that sense, Rajasthan may just be symptom of a larger weakening of the Congress in the Hindi heartland and some parts outside of it.
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