Sunday, Dec 07, 2003
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THE DRUBBING for the Congress in Rajasthan has come as a surprise to party leaders and poll pundits alike. The party is now a shambles with its leaders scurrying for cover.
They are hard put to explain the defeat of a Chief Minister who was till the other day held up as a model for every Congress-ruled State to emulate.
The return of the Bharatiya Janata Party has significance beyond Rajasthan. This is the first time the BJP has crossed the 100 seats mark in the State and Hindutva was not even mentioned! Vasundhara Raje has managed what veterans like Bhairon Singh Shekhawat could not the party won 120 of the 197 seats it contested.
This though the BJP organisational machinery had been in disarray at the start of the campaign and infighting was rampant in the State unit. The situation was saved by the Central leadership's focussed election strategies.
First indications from where the BJP picked up the clue of the Congress losing out on caste loyalties and not gaining much from "manifesto-based" approach were visible in the results of the three byelections to the Assembly held in November-December 2002.
The conclave of Chief Ministers of Congress-ruled States held in Mount Abu soon after mulled over it but decided to go ahead with the development plank.
The predominant Jat community almost severed its relations with the Congress after falling out over the issue of reservation sometime in 1999. The community had a special grudge that a Jat was not chosen Chief Minister. The Gujjars could not be held together as a community after the demise of Rajesh Pilot. The BJP also wooed the backward Mali (Saini) caste to which Ashok Gehlot belongs with more seats.
The Congress tried to make use of the resentment among the forward castes such as Rajputs and Brahmins over the reservation issue but this, at the best, helped to wean away only a small percentage of traditional BJP voters.
In the meantime the Congress vote base among the tribals and the Scheduled Castes got eroded for many reasons.
The reason for the heavy turnout, 67.02 per cent compared with 63 per cent in 1998, could partly be the attraction of the electronic voting machines introduced for the first time. There are now murmurs about the role of the Government employees who manned the polling booths in guiding the people on how to vote.
There are reports that some of them had shouted pro-BJP slogans while setting out for their respective polling stations.
Yet, all these could be excuses to explain away a stunning defeat. The Congress' campaign machinery could not match that of the BJP, propelled by the likes of the resourceful Pramod Mahajan, general secretary in charge of Rajasthan elections. Moreover from the outset, the Congress was too complacent with the pre-poll surveys putting it ahead of the BJP.
The party faltered in coordinating its campaign with most of its senior leaders confined to the constituencies of their wards and the Pradesh Congress Committee not contributing much.
It would be too early to predict the impact of the current elections on the Parliament polls scheduled next year. The BJP holds a majority (16 seats) of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan at present.
Perhaps Mr. Gehlot made a mistake this time around by taking on too many responsibilities and not delegating enough. The chances of a leadership change in the Congress are not much though the results herald the arrival of a new order in the BJP as well as in the State.
In the Congress a lot of old generation leaders have been either rejected or have taken voluntary retirement in the current elections. In the BJP, it is a brave new world which of course has its foothold firm in the feudal and aristocratic traditions.
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