File photos of Ashok Gehlot (L) and Sachin Pilot. Photograph:( DNA )
In the days to come, both parties will find arguments to either amplify their success or underplay their failure.
The Bharatiya Janata Party believed it would retain Rajasthan with a clear victory. The Congress was confident that it would sweep the election. The voters of the state had a somewhat different plan, which became known on December 11.
The BJP was denied a simple majority and the Congress was deprived of an overwhelming win. In the days to come, both parties will find arguments to either amplify their success or underplay their failure. Facts are facts, though, and none of the two contestants can escape them.
Facts about the Congress. First, the party failed to capitalise on the level of discontent that existed among the electorate against the Vasundhara Raje regime. Second, the Congress seemed to have exaggerated the extent of that discontent. Third, it could not optimally exploit the departure of rebel leaders from the BJP who contested on their own, as also those who joined the Congress. Fourth, it did not succeed in forging a winnable caste equation. And last, the formidable-looking Ashok Gehlot-Sachin Pilot combination does not seem to have worked on the ground.
Facts about the BJP are as follows: First, it avoided a washout of the kind the party appears to be on course in Chhattisgarh. Second, it has suffered a massive dent since its 2013 grand victory. Third, it did manage to contain to some extent the damage of anti-incumbency. And fourth, while its tallest leader Vasundhara Raje has lost credibility, it’s far from being a humiliating loss.
But electoral politics is all about forming a government, and the Congress has the edge. Not only does it has the larger number of seats, but it also stands a better chance of winning over the support of the ‘others’ that have won — they are neither with the BJP nor with the Congress.
Introspection would be called for, from both sides. How is that the Congress could not decisively defeat the Vasundhara Raje regime despite the well-accepted perception that her regime had become extremely unpopular for a variety of reasons? It could be the failure of the state’s tall leaders entrusted with the task of crafting a major Congress win. Although for the record, both Pilot and Gehlot were working shoulder to shoulder to defeat the BJP, the ground situation was not apparently as rosy, with workers of the two camps working more as rivals than colleagues. Equally, it is possible that the Congress had hyped up the existing dissatisfaction of the voters with the BJP and fed that version all over, including the media.
Though it is early hours yet to fully understand the caste-wise voting pattern, it is clear from the results that the Congress did not gain the unqualified support of every section of the caste rainbow. Neither the Gujjars nor the Jats nor the Meenas nor the Rajputs seem to have lock, stock and barrel dumped the BJP and aligned with the Congress.
Perhaps only the Muslim community remained firm behind the Congress. This calls for some questions that the Congress must itself raise an answer. Why is it that it could not succeed in its caste calculations to the extent it had wanted? It had leaders from various communities right in the front ranks of the battle — Gehlot, Pilot and the new recruit, Manvendra Singh.
The BJP, on the other hand, can take solace in the belief that it has been beaten but not mauled. That’s no consolation, really. The party failed to retain an important north Indian state, a state that had given all its 26 Lok Sabha seats to the party in 2014. Although it had won decisively in the 2013 Assembly election, in five years it managed to fritter away much of the goodwill it had gained. Vasundhara Raje, who had been seen as a saviour five years ago, ended up as, to some extent, a liability for the party in Rajasthan. She earned the reputation of being aloof, even arrogant. Far from visibly seeking to redress grievances of the people, she was not even perceived to have been sympathetic to those grievances.
If there is a lesson here for the BJP, there is also the same lesson for the incoming regime. Get caste mathematics right, always remain connected with the people, at least appear to be doing something to reduce the sufferings of the electorate, and strengthen the party organisation. If these lessons are not learnt, then five years from now, Rajasthan will do what it has been doing since the last two decades — vote out the incumbent and bring in its rival.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)