Opinion | Battle Royale Rajasthan: 5 Factors Shaping BJP's Hat-Trick Bid

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Political temperature has begun to soar in the desert state with voting for 12 seats scheduled to be held in Phase 1 of the Lok Sabha election. While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) aims to score a hat-trick by winning all the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state this year - as it did in 2014 and 2019 - the Congress hopes to put an end to its dry spell. The latest opinion polls by C-Voter and CNX predict that the BJP will sweep the state again in 2024, while Polstrat gives 19 seats to the party.

In both 2014 and 2019, the BJP maintained a vote share lead of 25 percentage points against the Congress, and also won the state elections in Rajasthan last year. The grand old party, however, did much better than expected in the assembly polls, trailing by just two percentage points in terms of vote share. The BJP hopes to carry forward the momentum of the assembly polls into the general elections this year.

Here are competing factors at play in Rajasthan:

1. Hanuman Beniwal's Switch From NDA To INDIA

Hanuman Beniwal, a Jat leader from the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party who won from Nagaur in 2019 under an alliance with the BJP, has now aligned with the Congress. Jats are an influential community, accounting for around 12% of the population. In 2019, 85% of Jats voted for the NDA, up from 38% in 2014, due to the alliance with the RLP and the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, this support was reduced to 42% in the 2023 assembly elections. Jats and Rajputs share a traditional rivalry in the state. The Congress hopes that the farmers' unrest and alliance with Beniwal could pull Jats towards the party, potentially denting the BJP's votes. Jats wield significant influence in the Shekhawati and Marwar regions of the state.

2. Rajput Trouble Brewing For BJP

A controversial remark by Union Minister Parshottam Rupala in Gujarat has sparked protests that have spread to several states. Over 60% of the upper castes (including Brahmins and Rajputs) backed the BJP in the last two Lok Sabha polls in the state. Although Rupala has withdrawn his remarks and publicly apologised to the community, the anger persists. Rajputs in Rajasthan demand that the BJP pull him from the fray in Rajkot. Rajput community organisations have linked the statement to denigrating their valour and sacrifices for the country. Parallelly, independent candidate Ravindra Singh Bhati's rise in Barmer is being described as a "revolt of the Rajputs".

3. Alliance Problems For Congress

The Congress has fielded candidates in 22 seats and has an understanding with its INDIA bloc ally Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) in Sikar, the RLP in Nagaur, and the newly-formed Bharatiya Adivasi Party (BAP) in the tribal-dominated Banswara constituency. Scheduled Tribes account for 13% of Rajasthan's population. Though traditionally supporters of the Congress, the BJP gained a lead in the community in 2019, with 58% backing the saffron party. However, in the 2023 assembly polls, 51% backed the Congress and only 29% supported the BJP.

The Congress is facing rebellion in Banswara. It reached an agreement with the BAP very late and allotted the party symbol to Arvind Damor. However, although a deal has been sealed, the official Congress candidate has not withdrawn his nomination despite a directive from the state Congress committee. The party has not taken action against him yet and hopes to reach some sort of an understanding. However, this has created confusion, which could split the ST vote, ultimately aiding the BJP in the seat.

4. Internal Discontent Within The BJP

The BJP has dropped 10 sitting MPs, causing unrest. Leaders like Rahul Kaswan and Prahlad Gunjal, who rebelled against the party's decision to deny them tickets from Churu and Kota, respectively, have joined the Congress. Kaswan has received a ticket from Churu, and Gunjal is challenging Speaker Om Birla in Kota. Kaswan, a Jat leader with a formidable presence among members of Rajasthan's farming community, is the son of Ram Singh Kaswan, who won the Churu seat thrice between 1999 and 2009. He vows to split the Jat vote.

5. Modi Factor And The Risk Of Maxing Out

The BJP faces the prospect of maxing out in Rajasthan, and the law of averages may catch up with the party this year. The party hopes that the Modi factor, which is very strong in the state, would neutralise this risk. In the 2019 national elections, while one out of every three voters (32%) on an average voted for the BJP due to PM Modi, in Rajasthan, the corresponding number was one out of every two (49%). 

Can Congress Script A Revival?

The Congress hopes to win over the Gujjar community, which overwhelmingly supported the BJP in 2019. With Sachin Pilot back in the thick of things, Gujjar votes in central (Jaipur) and eastern Rajasthan are key to the party's revival. In last year's state polls, 43% of Gujjars backed the BJP, while 39% supported the Congress.

The party fought well in 2023 and saved itself from suffering a rout. Naturally, it hopes to make a mark this time around. However, the fact that key figures like Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot are not contesting the elections this year may not help the party's cause.

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author