Ever since the BJP led by Narendra Modi won the Lok Sabha election in 2014 with the call for “Congress-Mukt Bharat”, the Congress party, which was reduced to 44 seats in that election has gradually lost electoral ground in most of the states of the country. Beginning with united Andhra Pradesh in early 2014, which was ruled by the Congress till the bifurcation of the state and the creation of the present states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, none of which is ruled by the Congress, to Gujarat in December 2017 the Congress party has hardly won any major state in the country. With the change at the helm in December 2017 and a slight increase in the number of seats of the Congress in the Gujarat election, thanks largely due to its adoption of ‘soft-Hindutva’ and deliberate fragmentation of the Hindu society, the Congress party now senses another opportunity to wrest the state of Rajasthan before the Lok Sabha election in 2019.
The Vidhan Sabha election in Rajasthan is scheduled to take place in November-December 2018. Incidentally, former Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot was the Congress General Secretary in charge of Gujarat for the 2017 Gujarat Vidhan Sabha election. Gehlot could also be in the reckoning for the Chief Ministership of Rajasthan again in 2018.
Gehlot has already served as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan twice. However, in his quest to be the Chief Minister of the state again, he could find the biggest challenger within his own party. The Rajasthan State Congress President Sachin Pilot, who is also close to the new Congress President Rahul Gandhi, poses a serious challenge to Gehlot. Gehlot, a 5-time MP, became a Lok Sabha MP for the first time in 1980 from Jodhpur, after the collapse of the Janata Party Government. Sachin Pilot was just over 2 years old then. It was also the Lok Sabha election that sent his father, Rajesh Pilot (former Congress leader and also a 5-time MP from Rajasthan) to the Lok Sabha from Bharatpur in Rajasthan for the first time.
A political battle between the two for leading the important state of Rajasthan in 2018 seems almost inevitable. Sachin Pilot is a young leader who has been given the charge of heading the Congress party in the state while Gehlot is a seasoned old-timer who would not want to miss the opportunity of becoming the Chief Minister of Rajasthan for the third time later this year.
Gehlot took a dig at Sachin Pilot when he commented, “Koi Pradesh Congress adhyaksh banta hai, bante he paanch chhe media wale uske dost ban jate hain, us bechare ko mukhyamantri bana dete hain. Wo usi hawa mein chalta rehta hai, aur usse party ko nuksan hota hai. Mera manna hai ke ye khud ke sochne samajhne ki baat hoti hai, hum sub milke kaise Congress ko mazboot karen.” (When a person becomes state party president, five-six mediapersons become his friends and project that poor fellow the [next] CM. He then starts going with the wind and that affects the party. I think this is something they should understand themselves, [they should think of] how to strengthen the party)”. With this dig at Pilot by Gehlot, battle lines have been drawn in the beginning of the year where crucial state elections are due. Pilot continues to be backed the top leadership of the Congress party while Gehlot’s supporters in Rajasthan have begun pitching for him.
This tussle within the Congress in Rajasthan could prove to be advantageous to the BJP. With infighting among the factions of the two important leaders of the state Congress, the BJP could supplement its own chances by proactive campaigning in the state. The BJP which won a stupendous 163 seats in the 2013 Rajasthan state election only needs to minimize its losses and buttress its weaknesses.
In 2008, when the Congress won the election in the state, it had managed to secure 96 seats on its own out of 200. It was 5 short of a simple majority. The BJP had secured 78 seats. Then, the difference between the 2 parties was merely 18 seats. When the BJP won the state with a thumping majority in 2013, it secured 18 seats out of 25 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes (STs) as compared to 2 seats it had won out of 25 seats reserved for the STs in 2008. Even out of 33 seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes in 2013, the BJP had won 31 seats. More importantly, the Congress party had not won a single seat out of 33 seats reserved for SCs. With the growing support among the SCs for the BJP, the Congress party, apart from its own internal troubles, could try to sabotage the support of the SCs for the BJP, as has been seen in Gujarat and more recently after the incidents of violence in Maharashtra.
The first test in this electoral battle for Rajasthan later this year, would be the Lok Sabha by-election and Mandalgarh Vidhan Sabha by-election scheduled to be held on 29th January. Both seats were won by the BJP previously.