Debating India

VERDICT 2004

The TINA factor at work

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

Friday 4 June 2004, by RAJALAKSHMI*T.K.

THE virtual dominance of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Rajasthan did not come as a surprise. That the party had an edge was unquestionable as only five months ago it had won 120 of the 200 seats in the elections held to the State Assembly. In fact, one of the reasons for the National Democratic Alliance’s early dissolution of the Lok Sabha was the BJP’s resounding victory in the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Assembly elections. While the BJP’s vote share went up from 47.23 per cent in 1999 to 49.01 per cent, the Congress’ vote share plunged from 45.12 to 41.43 per cent, much lower than its score in the Assembly elections.

But the shocking outcome of the parliamentary polls is that the Congress did not even retain all the nine seats it had won in the previous elections. The party won only four seats and failed to put up a good fight in the rest of the State. Stalwarts such as Balram Jakhar (Churu), Girija Vyas (Udaipur), Sona Ram (Barmer) and Buta Singh (Jalore) lost. The Congress winners include Sachin Pilot from Dausa, Sis Ram Ola from Jhunjhunu, Namo Narayan Meena from Sawai Madhopur and Karan Singh Yadav from Alwar.

That the BJP was in a comfortable position was evident from the fact that despite a triangular contest in Banswara, where its ally Janata Dal (United) decided to contest on its own, the Congress could not benefit from the division of votes.

The BJP’s 21 winners include former Finance Minister Jaswant Singh’s son Manavendra Singh from Barmer; Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia’s son Dushyant Singh from Jhalawar; filmstar Dharmendra from Bikaner (who, despite all the pomp and publicity, won by a narrow margin of 5,500 votes); Girdhari Lal Bhargava from Jaipur; Pushp Jain from Pali; Susheela Bangaru Laxman from Jalore; and senior BJP leader Raghuveer Singh Kaushal from Kota. Had the Congress campaigned aggressively by mobilising its workers and legislators better, the results may have varied slightly. The victory margins of the BJP candidates, barring in a few seats where the figures crossed a lakh, were not large. For instance, the margins of victory of Mahaveer Bhagora in Salumber, Susheela Laxman in Jalore, Jaswant Singh Bishnoi in Jodhpur, Dhan Singh Rawat in Banswara and Nihalchand Meghwal in Ganganagar were all below 50,000 votes. In a few seats, the candidates of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Bahujan Samaj Party may have queered the pitch for the Congress, but overall the contests were bipolar.

There are several reasons for the BJP’s improved performance apart from the fact that a newly installed BJP government, headed by Vasundhara Raje, was in place. Analysing the Congress’ virtual defeat in the State, political observers said that the election machinery of the party was virtually missing as was the case during the Assembly elections; that the "political exile" of former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot did not bode well for the party in terms of caste equations as the Other Backward Classes felt neglected; and that there was sabotage within the party. In fact, the charge of sabotage was made by none other than Pradesh Congress Committee chief Narain Singh, who lost from Sikar. He told Frontline from Jaipur that Ashok Gehlot had played a negative role in Rajasthan and that he had done little to improve the party’s prospects after the Assembly elections. Narain Singh said that he was also a victim of sabotage as two Members of the Legislative Assembly loyal to Gehlot had campaigned against him. "Our candidates were much better than the BJP’s. We were hoping to win at least 12 seats," he said. About the need for strategic secular alliances, he said that parties other than the BJP and the Congress did not have much of a base in the State. The BJP, he said, had gained, as the new government had just been installed and there was little reason for any real resentment to build up.

For any alliance to win, its constitution has to be strong and an anti-incumbency feeling must be at work. In Rajasthan, both these aspects were missing. One crucial lesson that emerges is that the caste combinations tried out by the Congress did not work. The party nominated seven Jats to equal the seven Jat nominees of the BJP. It tried to woo Muslims; it gave a token representation to Muslims by nominating a candidate from this community in Ajmer - a seat considered a BJP stronghold. It made B.D. Kalla, a Brahmin, the CLP leader in order to project its upper-caste leanings. But all in all, it failed to express itself as a credible alternative.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

in Frontline, volume 21, Issue 11, May 22 - Jun 04, 2004.

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