Rajasthan is one of the states where the BJP swept all 25 seats in both the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha (LS) polls. Even though many commentators believed there was no “Modi wave” in the 2019 elections, the victory in Rajasthan for the BJP is even bigger in 2019 than in 2014. The average vote share of the winning BJP candidates has increased from 54.08 per cent in 2014 to 60.35 per cent in 2019.
Rajasthan, however, presents a curious case. In the December 2018 Vidhan Sabha (VS) elections, the Congress made a strong comeback, and formed the government in the state with the help of the BSP’s two seats. So, what happened in the last five months that the Congress could not win a single seat in Rajasthan in Lok Sabha?
One, it has to do with the way Rajasthan’s voters voted in the 2018 VS elections. Voters wanted to punish Vasundhara Raje for several reasons — agrarian distress, Rajput anger, her alleged governance scams, her uneasy relationship with the RSS, an increasingly arrogant image of her as a maharani and a general anti-incumbency in the state where power alters alternatively between the Congress and the BJP every VS election. The slogan Modi tujhse bair nahin, rani teri khair nahin (We have no grudges against you, Modi, but Vasundhara will not be spared) encapsulates it all. The Congress used all this to its advantage. Moreover, it brought the Muslims and Dalits to its fold after a spate of lynchings of individuals of both communities. Vasundhara Raje was ousted, but Modi was spared.
In the 2019 LS elections, the loan waivers that Congress announced after winning in Rajasthan backfired. Only loans from cooperative and land development banks were waived and not those from commercial and rural banks. This gave an impression of a half-hearted implementation of the scheme. Farmers, anyway, were less excited about it since loan waivers would not address the deeper structural issues such as minimum support price or the water crisis. With the Model Code of Conduct kicking in on March 10, the Congress ran out of time to do anything more substantial.
There were other regional issues that weakened the Congress considerably in the state. First, sources in the Rajasthan Congress said that workers were disgruntled with the Congress faction leaders. After the 2018 victory, only those closer to Ashok Gehlot, Sachin Pilot and C P Joshi were rewarded. Further, workers were not consulted about the choice of 2019 candidates. While experienced party workers were sidelined, new faces were put in the fray in at least 10 seats. Then, the winning/losing 2018 MLAs were given charge of leading campaigns in their VS constituencies. But those who were not favoured previously by the Congress for the MLA ticket barely extended their support, and worked against the 2018 MLA candidates. The infighting thus continued at many levels.
Second, the Congress lost support within two key communities in the state — the Gujjars and the Jats. Gujjars were still unhappy about Sachin Pilot not being made Chief Minister. The Congress candidate could not come first even from Pilot’s VS seat Tonk in the 2019 LS elections due to Gujjars ditching the Congress, according to sources in the Congress. Besides, the BJP received crucial Gujjar support with Kirori Singh Bainsla, the prominent leader of the Gujjar quota agitation, joining the BJP along with his son Vijay Bainsla before the LS elections.
Jat support to the Congress was severely diminished due to the way it tackled the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) leader Hanuman Beniwal. Beniwal commands strong support amongst the Jat voters and the party won three seats in the 2018 VS elections and came second in at least two seats. His discussions with the Congress for the ticket from the Nagaur LS seat, his home turf, went in vain and Congress instead fielded Dr Jyoti Mirdha, a dynast from a very prominent Jat family (her grandfather was a six-time MP and four-time MLA). BJP quickly made the best of it and allied with Beniwal despite his acrimonious relationship with Vasundhara Raje. The Beniwal factor got huge Jat support to the BJP in the state and contributed significantly to the defeat of Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav Gehlot from Jodhpur. What also contributed to Vaibhav Gehlot’s defeat was further resistance from the Jat community at the behest of Congress MLA Divya Maderna. Ashok Gehlot had sacked her father Mahipal Maderna in 2011 from the Cabinet due to his alleged involvement in the Bhanwari Devi murder case. It was Divya’s chance to settle scores.
The Jat factor also influenced the result of the high-profile contest of Congress candidate Manvendra Singh, son of the former BJP veteran Jaswant Singh. Kailash Chaudhary, a Jat, from the BJP was pitted against Manvendra. Although Manvendra was able to amass Rajput as well as Muslim votes, Jat and upper caste votes were consolidated for Chaudhary. Moreover, Ummeda Ram, an SC who was Beniwal’s RLP candidate in Baytu (an SC seat in Barmer) in the 2018 VS elections, helped some SC votes be transferred in favour of the BJP Jat candidate.
In two of the four SC seats, the BJP played the card of uniting other SC jatis against the dominant Jatav caste. In Bharatpur, it fielded Ranjeeta Koli, a Koli candidate, and in Karauli-Dholpur, it fielded Manoj Rajoria, a Khatik candidate. In Bikaner and Ganganagar, the BJP, like the Congress, fielded a candidate from the dominant Meghwal caste.
In at least two seats, the decision of Congress to field a candidate from the “reserved category” in “General” seats backfired. Congress fielded a Meena candidate each from Kota and Tonk-Sawai Madhopur which led to protests by upper castes.
These local vignettes show that in Rajasthan, while Modi’s popularity, Hindutva, and the post-Pulwama nationalism played a huge role, there were a series of important state-related factors affecting the Congress, as well as delicate and shrewd caste calculations on the part of BJP that took the saffron party to its massive victory in Rajasthan.
Christophe Jaffrelot is Senior Research Fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian Politics & Sociology at King’s India Institute, London, and non-resident scholar at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Jusmeet Singh Sihra is a doctoral student in sociology and politics jointly at CERI-Sciences Po and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.