New Delhi: Fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress in Rajasthan have reversed. Where BJP had overrun the largest Indian state in 2013 Assembly elections, winning 163 electoral seats out of a total 200, five years later the party lost 90 seats. The Congress, on the other hand, gained 78 seats to take their tally to 99 and emerge as the single largest party in the state.
This reversal is reflected directly in the numbers coming out from the key regions of Shekhawati belt and the Jaipur division. The Shekhawati belt comprises parts of Nagaur and Jaipur districts in Central Rajasthan, and Churu, Sikar and Jhunjhunu districts in the North that overlap with Jaipur division.
The Jaipur division, one of the seven administrative divisions in the state, envelops five districts, namely Alwar, Dausa, Jaipur, Jhunjhunu and Sikar. The Congress gained considerably in these regions at the expense of the saffron party. If we consider Churu, Sikar and Jhunu districts, where 21 seats are at stake, the Congress has gone from scraping four seats in 2013 elections to a convincing haul of 14 this time. And where it has gained, the BJP has suffered; the saffron party’s tally has come down from 12 seats in 2013 to a mere five.
The number turns grimmer still for the BJP if we take Nagaur into account. The district holds 10 seats in the Rajasthan Assembly and had contributed nine to BJP’s tally in 2013. In 2018, BJP has been reduced to two seats in Nagaur. In the same region, the Congress is up from zero seats in 2013 to six this time around. Two seats were also absorbed by Hanuman Beniwal’s newly floated Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) in Khinvsar and Merta.
According to former BBC journalist and political analyst Narayan Bareth, Congress has reaped benefits from the work the Left has done in the Shekhawati belt. “In the last five years, Left worked a lot in the region. They started farmer agitation, did campaigns on secularism. And since Left and Congress share constituencies, the latter benefited,” Bareth said.
Massive farmer rallies created an anti-government environment in the region and weakened the BJP, Bareth said.
Nagaur, parts of which come under the Shekhawati belt, was also a theatre for farmer unrests in the region. The district is also a centre for education and houses several prep institutes for competitive exams. So the unemployment issue hit the educated youth hard in the region, Bareth said. Additionally, a strong presence of minority communities in the district also helped the Congress.
“People in Nagaur were angry. They were counting down days to the election, so they could vote the BJP out. The government ignored the farmers in the region and the youth could not find work,” said Zakir Hussain Gesawat, Nagaur Congress president.
Caste consolidation also played a big role in neutralising BJP in the region. Jhunjhunu and Nagaur are Jat-dominated districts. According to a source in the region, BJP has incurred the anger of Jats, who are also a big part of farmer groups. “The BJP has never even promoted a Jat leader to state party president post, while Congress has done it four times,” the source said.
BJP has met a similar fate in Jaipur division. In the region’s five districts where 49 seats were in the fray, the party, from 35 seats in 2013, has been cut down to 12 in 2018. Its major losses came in Jaipur district where, out of a total 19 seats, it won only 7 — a telling contrast from its thumping 16-seat victory in the capital district in 2013. In Alwar, too, BJP is down from eight seats (out of a total 10) to two; and from Dausa’s five seats, it has lost all three they it won in 2013. These losses have translated into wins for the Congress which is up from five seats in the division in 2013 to 27 in 2018, with a gain of eight seats coming from the Jaipur district itself.
According to Bareth, pushing the Hindutva agenda in Alwar backfired for the BJP. “The BJP tried to make Alwar the centre for their Hindutva politics. The region also saw lynchings and the BJP leaders made controversial statements too. It was Alwar where Yogi Adityanath said ‘Hanuman was a Dalit’ during campaigning. Even during the bypolls, people voted against the government and they repeated that decision in Assembly polls,” Bareth said.
There was considerable Dalit anger in Alwar too, following several instances of violence against their community which has a strong presence in the region. BSP capitalised on that sentiment and got two seats in Alwar, Tijara and Kishangarh Bas. “Congress did not stand up for Dalit issues in Alwar, so BSP got a chance to establish a foothold,” Bareth said.