A recent C-Voter survey predicts the BJP making a comeback in Rajasthan by bagging anywhere between 109-119 seats, with the Congress being reduced to 78-88 seats.
While the BJP is expected to record a 45.8 percent vote share (plus 7 percent), the Congress party is also seen gaining a vote share at 41 percent (plus 1.7percent), at the expense of “others”.
This indicates and follows an increasing trend of bipolarity being witnessed in state elections in India. The survey shows BJP leading against the Congress in all the regions except Shekhawati.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has launched a series of social welfare schemes to break the buck of incumbents losing polls every five years.
He has launched an extensive PR blitz, neutralized his bete noire Sachin Pilot’s rebellion, and was seen getting the benefit of confusion and chaos in BJP’S camp with respect to its CM face.
The survey results show that all of this is not working for the jaadugar yet.
Gehlot Ahead in CM Race, but on the Losing Side
Ashok Gehlot is most favoured to be the CM with 35 percent of respondents backing him, followed by Vasundhara Raje at 25 percent and Sachin Pilot at 19 percent.
On a combined basis, the Congress party faces (Gehlot and Sachin) lead with 54 percent as against BJP faces (Raje, G Shekhawat, and R Rathore) at 39 percent, a big lead of 15 percent.
We should keep in mind that incumbent CMs do get an undue advantage in this question, as they occupy the top-of-the-mind recall. Also, the fact that BJP has not announced a CM candidate helps Gehlot.
Though Gehlot leads the pack with 35 percent, it is not a very high number, CMs with even 40 percent ratings like Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh lost in 2018 in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Also, compared to other states which go to polls together at year-end and with Karnataka, the people of Rajasthan vote the least on the CM face as shown in the graph below (2018 numbers).
With the BJP not declaring a CM face and deciding to seek votes in the name of PM Modi, it means that we need to count the central leadership factor as well, especially because 62 percent of respondents say Modi’s campaign will help the BJP. Modi leads the PM race at 63 percent votes with Rahul Gandhi lagging at 20 percent, and Yogi Adityanath at 6 percent. On a CM plus PM combined rating, the BJP is far ahead (plus 17 percent), neutralizing the lead that Congress enjoys at CM level.
Anti-incumbency, Old Guard, and Bipolar Contest
While Gehlot is not unpopular, local-level anti-incumbency against MLAs of the Congress party seems to be very high which is costing it heavily. This is indicated by the fact that while 54 percent of respondents want to see either Gehlot or Pilot as CM, the party is getting only a 41 percent vote share.
A decent chunk of voters in Rajasthan now want new faces and are tired of Gehlot and Vasundhara as they have been ruling now for the past 25 years.
This is corroborated in the survey as 23 percent of respondents don't want either Gehlot or Pilot as the CM face of Congress and 33 percent don’t want either Vasundhara, Shekhawat, or Rajendra Rathore as the CM face of the BJP.
39 percent of respondents are satisfied with the Ashok Gehlot-led government, 36 percent are somewhat satisfied and 24 percent are not satisfied. Usually, commentators add satisfied and somewhat satisfied figures to arrive at net sentiment in favour of or against a party.
However, “somewhat satisfied” has a negative connotation to it, and these voters may not necessarily vote for the Congress party. This is evident in the party's vote share of 41 percent. Almost the entire chunk of the “somewhat satisfied” 36 percent of respondents are not voting for the party, barring a meager 2 percent.
41 percent of respondents are satisfied with Ashok Gehlot’s work while only 39 percent with his government’s work also corroborates a bit of anti-incumbency against some of his ministers.
The law and order issue is damaging Gehlot with 50 percent of respondents unhappy with the Congress's government’s work on law and order situation.
Welfare Schemes: Too Little Too Late?
Gehlot has announced a slew of schemes for each voting segment however there is usually a lag between fund allocation and implementation and there remain always even bigger questions about the efficacy of government spending.
50 percent of respondents agree that the Rajasthan government's scheme to provide cooking gas cylinders for Rs 500 will help the Congress party.
However, when asked if the Congress party has turned the election mood in its favour with the help of populist schemes like health insurance, 100 units of free electricity, and concession in buses, 46 percent of respondents said 'Yes' while 45 percent did not see these helping the Gehlot government at all.
Early Opinion Polls Suffer From Lacunas
Elections are still four months away. Early opinion polls fail to take into account the local candidate factor as candidates have not yet been announced by any party. In 2018, 50.2 percent of respondents in the CSDS pre-poll survey said the local candidate was the most important factor for polling for Rajasthan.
The opinion polls carried out in August 2018 (for previous elections) by C-Voter for Rajasthan had predicted 130 seats for the Congress, its actual tally was 99 (-31). It had predicted a 51 percent vote share for the Congress as against BJP’s 37 percent. Congress and BJP both got around 40 percent vote share in the elections.
In the first-past-the-post system, getting the seat share predictions right has always been tough for survey agencies. A gap of 5 percent vote share in Rajasthan indicates a sweep like in 1998 (Congress 150 plus seats) and 2013 (BJP 160 plus seats).
“Others” including BSP, Left parties, Hanuman Beniwal’s RLP, and independents have had a historically high vote share of 20 percent plus, and this time you have AAP too. Surveys generally underplay the role of “others”.
There is still a lot of time left for the elections.
Four months is a long time in politics. Especially when 25 percent to 30 percent finally make up their mind on “who to vote for '' either on the voting day and/or 2-3 days before polling. This trend is visible across most states as per CSDS surveys.
Three states Punjab (2012), Tamil Nadu (2016), and Kerala (2021) have broken a similar trend to Rajasthan from which Gehlot can take solace and motivation.
If Gehlot denies tickets to MLAs against whom anti-incumbency is high, is able to enroll more and more people in the various schemes launched, keeps Pilot on his side, and exploits the fault lines within the BJP, the elections could go down to the wire.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)