What Higher Voter Turnout Could Mean For Rajasthan

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The marginally high voter turnout in the Rajasthan assembly election is being claimed as a victory by both the BJP and the ruling Congress. While the BJP believes it’s a sign of change, the Congress considers it popular support for its welfare schemes. The final voting percentage for 199 assembly seats in Rajasthan stood at 75.45 per cent (including postal ballots). The highest polling was recorded at Jaisalmer’s Pokhran with an 88.23 per cent turnout and the lowest in the Ahore assembly seat at 61.24 per cent. More women (74.72 per cent) voted than men (74.53 per cent) this time. Rajasthan voted on November 25. The results on December 3 will decide whether the Congress retains power, defying the state’s tradition of voting out the incumbent, or the BJP topples the Ashok Gehlot government. 

In the last assembly election in 2018, Rajasthan recorded a voter turnout of 74.72 per cent (including postal ballots). This year’s voting is 0.73 per cent more than the last time. This trend of increasing voter turnout in assembly elections was also witnessed in other states like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Mizoram, where elections were held at the same time.

In Rajasthan, the main fight is between the BJP and the ruling Congress. The BJP contested on all seats while the Congress left one seat – Bharatpur – for its ally Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). In 2018 too, the Congress had set aside this seat for the RLD. Other parties in the contest are the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), CPI (M), Bharatiya Adivasi Party, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party and AlMIM. These parties may manage to win a few seats.

K Subrahmanya, a political analyst and journalist who has reported on Rajasthan elections in the past, cautions against reading too much into the higher turnout. “This largely static turnout figure may be suggestive of a kind of competitive mobilisation by rival contenders for power. The polling figure neither suggests a decisive anti-incumbency vote nor a pro-incumbent vote. Probably, it signals a much closer fight. The gap between the winner and the loser could be relatively narrow,” says Mr Subrahmanya.

The election campaign revolved around appeasement politics, corruption, welfare schemes of the state and Centre, women’s safety, and the demand for a caste census. Both the Congress and the BJP were plagued by rebels even though most sitting MLAs were renominated. In about 31 seats, rebels from both parties were instrumental in turning the contest into a triangular one.

What does it mean for political parties?

The Congress is relying on the support of its traditional social base – the minority, Scheduled Castes (SCs), Mali, and the Meena communities – and the party sees the higher turnout as proof of support from these communities. Both the BJP and the Congress claim the support of the Mali community, which voted for the Congress in 2018.

For the Congress, there may not be any anti-incumbency against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, but it is a different story for its sitting MLAs. The party has fielded as many as 97 sitting MLAs, which may backfire.

People came in large numbers to vote in districts of northern Rajasthan like Jhunjhunu and Churu, Sikar, and Nagaur, which are Jat-dominated areas.

The Congress claims its share of Jat votes, based on farmer welfare measures like loan waivers and electricity subsidies by the Gehlot government.

Akhil Chaudhary, a Rajasthan-based lawyer and a member of the Congress, attributes the higher voter turnout to the popularity of pro-social security schemes of the government. “Rajasthan was the first state to bring a separate budget for the farming community. The seven guarantees promised in the manifesto have appealed to voters. One of the guarantees was a pension scheme of Rs 10,000 to the woman head in the family. This time too, like 2018, female voters were more than male voters,” says Mr Chaudhary.

In the absence of any chief ministerial face, the BJP chose to fight the elections under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party leadership seemed to tell the voters to trust the symbol and allow the party’s democratic process to identify the chief ministerial candidate. During the last days of campaigning, veteran leader and former chief minister Vasundhara Raje was seen in meetings because the party’s top brass realised she was still a force to reckon with. But the message is clear. The party is seeking new leadership and Ms Raje is out of favour.

There are many chief ministerial aspirants, including Rajsamand MP Diya Kumari, who is fighting from Vallabhnagar in Jaipur district. Alwar MP Mahant Balaknath Yogi – the ‘Adityanath Yogi’ of Rajasthan – was asked to contest from Tijara. Some union ministers from Rajasthan are also in the race for the top job if the BJP comes to power. Not naming a presumptive chief minister could go either way for the BJP.

A higher turnout of voters has been reported in eastern Rajasthan, which has a considerable presence of the Gurjar community. The community may have voted for the BJP in large numbers as they were upset with the Congress over the perceived diminished status of their leader Sachin Pilot. The Gurjar and Meena belt of eastern Rajasthan had voted for the Congress in 2018.

“On the ground closer to the polling were three factors – a high degree of the consolidation of their respective social/caste coalitions behind the Congress and the BJP; unpopularity of quite a significant number of sitting Congress MLAs who are in the race; and enthusiasm amongst sections of the voters for Gehlot’s poll-oriented freebies to the voters,” says Mr Subrahmanya.

Experts also say smaller parties like Rashtriya Loktantrik Party of Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal, Mayawati’s BSP, Bharatiya Adivasi Party, Jannayak Janata Party and Azad Samaj Party of Chandrashekhar Azad may influence the voting pattern in at least 30 constituencies.

In this closely fought election in Rajasthan, predicting a clear winner is tricky as both the Congress and the BJP are evenly positioned and the smaller parties may end up playing a larger role in the government formation.

(Bharti Mishra Nath is a senior journalist)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author

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