Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje (left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a function in March 2018. Photo: AFP/ NurPhoto
Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje (left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a function in March 2018. Photo: AFP/ NurPhoto

India’s northern state of Rajasthan, where voters have never returned a ruling party to power in the last five Assembly elections, went to the polls on December 7. And true to form, the prospect of victory for the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks slim.

Elections for 199 of the 200 Assembly seats in the state were held on Friday, with polling postponed in one constituency in Alwar district owing to the death of a candidate.

At 5 pm, the voter turnout was 72.7%, down from the figure for 2013, when turnout was 74.48%. In 2013, the BJP took 163 seats and formed the government with a clear majority.

Rajasthan is India’s largest state and one where the BJP and the Congress Party are the most powerful political forces. Given the electorate’s almost traditional anti-incumbency stance as well as infighting in the BJP, the Congress party fancies its chances of ousting its rival and taking power.

In the run-up to polling day, BJP leaders were slammed for exaggerating their job creation achievements. Added to this, four youths committed suicide in Alwar district a fortnight before election day, allegedly because they were unable to find work.

According to the Rajasthan Unemployed Unified Federation, unemployment has driven more than 26 people to end their lives in the state in the last five years.

Despite winning 10 of the 11 Assembly constituencies in Alwar district in 2013, the BJP has little hope of repeating the performance, in part because of recent lawlessness in the region.

In July, Haryana resident and cattle farmer Rakbar Khan was beaten to death in Alwar after being suspected of cattle smuggling. The year before, two other dairy farmers, both Muslims, were murdered in Alwar in a similar fashion.

Many instances of cow vigilantism-related violence have taken place in Alwar, instilling fear in the region’s cow-rearing Meo Muslim community. Reports indicate that these incidents might have made voters steer shy of the BJP.

Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s alleged lack of concern over such incidents is said to be another factor influencing voters. Her administration also stands widely accused of ignoring farmers, turning a deaf ear to their pleas and protests.

Splits and a Third Front

Another jolt for the BJP ahead of the election came from disputes with prominent Jat – a sector of the Hindu community – leader Hanuman Beniwal and Brahmin, or upper-caste Hindu, leader Ghanshyam Tiwari. Both walked away from the BJP and started their own parties. The two leaders command sufficient following among the Jat and Brahmin communities to eat into BJP support.

Development-related issues also plague Rajasthan, and did not help the BJP, even on polling day.

A group of girls who turned up to cast their vote for the first time in Baseri Assembly constituency in Dholpur district complained about the lack of educational facilities for girls in their area. Another group of women voters from Samanpura village in Baseri complained that their village receives only about five hours of electricity a day.

The Congress party is hoping that discontentment in the community will be reflected in their voting, despite the fact that their party has faced problems of its own coming into the election. Seven of its leaders who quit the party were embraced by the BJP, who gave them constituencies to contest in the election. This was only somewhat offset by the Congress party fielding four candidates who had jumped ship from the BJP.

While the BJP has projected Raje as its candidate for the Chief Minister’s post, the Congress party has not named its candidate for the top job. However, it is fairly certain that the post will be assigned to either former chief minister Ashok Gehlot or to Sachin Pilot. While Gehlot is a veteran of Rajasthani politics, Pilot’s relentless campaigning has made a mark, not least because of his February by-election victory.

Faulty EVMs

Just as in recent elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram, many Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were reported to have malfunctioned in Rajasthan, in particular during the first half of the day. Incidents of EVMs not working correctly happened across the state, making voters wait in long lines until the faulty machines were replaced.

The Congress party accused the BJP of tampering with EVMs across all states. Party President Rahul Gandhi even went to the extent of tweeting that “In Modi’s India, EVMs have mysterious powers.”

Although voting took place relatively peacefully across the state, there were some reports of violent incidents. In the city of Sikar, clashes between supporters of the BJP and the Congress party resulted in one youth sustaining injuries, and the driver of Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] leader Amra Ram was attacked by BJP workers in Jalore. In both the cases, security personnel arrived quickly to defuse the situation.

Exit poll results on Friday evening favored the Congress party. The Times Now-CNX exit poll predicted a victory for the Congress party with 105 seats, leaving 85 to the BJP. The India Today-Axis My India exit poll projected 119-141 seats in favor of the Congress party, leaving the BJP in the range of 55-72. The CVoter exit poll has predicted 137 seats for Congress and 60 for the BJP.