Assembly elections: Will regional parties be a spoiler in Rajasthan contest?

Vasundhara Raje Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India Nov 12, 2018, 11.16 AM (IST) Rajesh Singh

When there is a wave in favour of or against the ruler or the main Opposition in elections, the presence of smaller parties, either in their individual capacities or as loosely-held coalitions, barely makes a difference to the end result. But these smaller outfits become important in the absence of a wave, and when there is anti-incumbency. The smaller players can alter outcomes in quite a few constituencies, either leading to gains or losses for the principal contestants. The situation in Rajasthan is that of the latter. 

The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are locked in a more or less direct fight across the state for the Assembly elections. While the Congress has been appealing for a broad-based alliance in the country to take on the Modi government in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, it has decided to fight the Rajasthan poll on its own strength. Half-hearted attempts had been made to align with the Bahujan Samaj Party, but after BSP supremo Mayawati announced her decision, not to partner with the Congress, the efforts came to an end.  

Subsequent developments have thrown up two different arrangements that seek to take on both the Congress and the BJP. Six parties, comprising most of the Left, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Samajwadi Party, have come together. They are now trying to woo the BSP and the Aam Aadmi Party into the fold since they are open to all “non-BJP and non-Congress” outfits. Meanwhile, Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal has launched the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, while veteran politician Ghanshyam Tiwari, who quit the BJP recently, has floated the Bharat Vahini Party. It is possible that the two outfits could strike a deal to contest together. So far so good. What was puzzling was the presence of leaders of the Samajwadi Party — part of the other, Left-led combine. Thus, it’s still unclear whether the Samajwadi Party will go along with the Left-led grouping or with the Beniwal-Tiwari combine. 

But with less than a month left for the election, these parties do not have the luxury to wait to firm up alliances. The BSP and the AAP have already announced the names of their candidates for some constituencies, with both seemingly determined to contest on their own. The Aam Aadmi Party’s local unit claimed that it had sounded out various opposition leaders about a possible alliance to take on both the Congress and the BJP, but had received no encouraging response, which is why it was going alone; the party has already announced more than 60 candidates. Despite these developments, every party is still hoping for a “positive outcome” in attempts to forge an anti-BJP/anti-Congress formation. 

The Congress believes that it is in a strong position to oust the BJP and will not need the help of smaller outfits. But it must keep in kind the 2008 situation when the Congress had fallen short of the majority mark by six seats and had to seek the support of BSP Legislators to enable the formation of a government led by Ashok Gehlot. There are more than two dozen seats where the smaller parties have considerable hold and can mar the Congress’s prospects by dividing votes and enhancing the BJP’s chances. In the 2013 Assembly election, when the BJP triumphed decisively, the BSP had still managed to muster more than seven per cent of the vote-share. 

The indecisiveness of the new parties in striking more broad-based alliances should ordinarily have been good news for the BJP. But it is not so in the given situation. The party is actually banking on a decent enough performance of these outfits because it believes that the votes they can steal would be largely from the Congress, although it’s possible that some damage could be caused to it as well.  

Even if the new formulations dent the Congress’s prospects, will that be enough for the BJP to pull through in Rajasthan? Nearly every poll survey so far has projected a comfortable win for the Congress. For the BJP and its Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, the one hope for a turnaround is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Even poll pundits acknowledge that the mood can change in the state once Modi gets into campaign mode there. The million dollar question is: Can even Modi save the BJP in Rajasthan this time around? 

 (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Rajesh Singh

The writer is an author, senior political commentator and public affairs analyst

Story highlights

The smaller players can alter outcomes in quite a few constituencies, either leading to gains or losses for the principal contestants. The situation in Rajasthan is that of the latter.