Sunday, January 04, 2004

BJP Wins On A Negative Vote

Vasudeo

THE recently concluded assembly elections in Rajasthan led to the BJP securing an absolute majority in the state, winning 120 seats in a house of 200. This was the first time the party got a majority on its own; it had earlier failed to secure a majority even when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat was at the helm of its affairs. The BJP had won only 32 seats in 1980 after the Jan Sangh group came out of the Janata Party and formed the BJP, 38 in 1985, 85 seats (in alliance with the Janata Dal) in 1990, 96 in 1993, and could manage only 32 seats in 1998. This time the Congress has suffered its worst defeat post emergency, winning only 56 seats, a third of its 1998 tally. It did not win a single seat in six districts. Both the deputy chief ministers and 29 ministers of the Ashok Gehlot government have lost. Though the BJP made substantial gains across the state, its former deputy chief minister Hari Shankar Bhabhra and another senior leader Lalit Kishore Tiwari have also lost. Other parties won 24 seats, with the CPI(M) retaining the Dhond assembly seat. The BJP secured 39.35 per cent (88,29,112), the Congress got 35.65 per cent (80,89,369) and others got about 25 per cent (56,75,381) out of the total 2,26,98,184 votes polled.

The election results surprised even the BJP that had not anticipated such a massive victory. During the elections, it had been contacting the rebels and potential winners, so that their support could be utilised in the event of a hung assembly. The Congress was hoping to form a government again, even though its thinking was that its seats would come down 153 to 110 or 105.

But the opinion as well as exit polls proved hopelessly wrong, as they had been predicting a hung assembly. The CPI(M) state committee too was of the opinion that the Congress would win with a reduced majority and that there was no possibility of a BJP victory. Though the state committee had underlined the mass discontent against the Congress government because of its anti-people policies, it felt that there was no wave against the Congress or in favour of the BJP.

The assessment of the CPI(M)'s state unit was that the BJP could achieve little due to the departure of Shekhawat from state politics, differences in the BJP over the nomination of Vasundhara Raje Scindia as state BJP president, its failure to launch mass agitations against the anti-people policies of the Gehlot government, hostile opposition of the Brahmin and Rajput caste organisations to the BJP, and open opposition to the rallies held by Ms Scindia during her parivartan yatra. But this assessment has proved to be incorrect. Yet the CPI(M) was right in its assessment that there was no powerful third front in the state and therefore the main contest was going to be between the BJP and the Congress, while some independents or other parties could provide an alternative at the local level.

The election results prove that while the people of Rajasthan voted against the anti-people economic policies and the communal drive of the BJP in 1998, they punished the Congress for implementing those very economic policies even at a faster pace, and for trying to use the soft Hindutva line. The people had been expressing their discontent against the Congress in all byelections held since the 1999 parliamentary elections when the Congress had won only 9 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats. Barring one Lok Sabha and three assembly byelections, the BJP had won all of them and fared better in the panchayat and nagar parishad polls.

The CPI(M) is yet to make a detailed analysis of the election results on the basis of reports from districts committees. Yet, the reasons for Congress defeat appear to be a reduction in the retirement age from 60 to 58 years, retrenchment due to the closure of state public sector undertakings, ban on bonus, allowances and earned leaves of employees, politically motivated transfers of employees, and brutal suppression of the employees' agitation that forced them to adopt a strong anti-Congress position and work openly against it. The party had promised eight hours of uninterrupted electricity supply to the peasantry but no agricultural zone got power for more than six hours a day. On the contrary, tariffs for agricultural and domestic electricity consumption were raised twice. Disconnection of electricity connection to wells and high electricity bills also turned the rural masses against the Congress. Villages did not get electricity even during the night hours. The state was reeling under a drought for the past four years, children died of starvation, but adequate famine relief was not provided, and corruption in famine relief works damaged the credibility of the government. Even a good monsoon leading to good harvests could not reverse the anti-government feelings.

In Ganganagar and Hanumangarh districts, farmers did not get adequate irrigation water. Further, the state government did nothing for rehabilitation of the people who were displaced by the army's movements in the border areas. So intense was the feeling against the government that the Congress failed to win a single seat in Ganganagar district. These areas witnessed big mass movements against the government.

Privatisation of education, massive increases in education fees, the rising number of the unemployed with the number of the registered unemployed touching the 15 lakh figure, and non-regularisation of the para-teachers who were appointed at a fixed salary of Rs 1200 swayed the students and youth away from the Congress.

The atrocities against the Dalits increased in the last five years. They could not have a bath at public wells or draw water. Incidents of humiliation of Dalits such as dismounting them from horses during marriage processions, incidents of land grabbing by feudal lords, displacement of Adivasis and such other tendencies alienated these sections from the ruling party. As a result, while the Congress won only six out of 34 SC seats, the BJP won 26.

The anti-Gehlot stand of the Jat community played an important role in defeating the Congress. Both the BJP and the Congress used caste as an electoral strategy but the BJP reaped the benefits. The results indicate that, in the BJP camp, 7 Brahmins, 13 Jats, 20 Rajputs, 1 Muslim, 13 Vaishyas, 6 Gujjars, 3 Kumawats, 2 Dhakars, 2 Bishnois, 2 Sikhs, 2 Rajpurohits, 1 Rawat and 1 Sindhi candidates were elected. On the Congress ticket, on the other hand, 8 Brahmins, 14 Jats, 4 Rajputs, 4 Muslims, 5 Vaishyas, 2 Gujjars, 1 Sikh, 1 Mali, 1 Charan, 1 Sindhi, 6 SCs and 6 STs won the contest.

Even though the Congress government arrested the VHP leader Dr Praveen Togadia, it on the whole adopted a vacillating position vis-à-vis communalism. But the most important reason for the Congress defeat was intense factionalism within the Congress, with rebels severely damaging the party's prospects. The Congress campaign was also weak and dull in comparison to that of the BJP.

It is clear that this victory of the BJP cannot be construed as a mandate in its favour; it is in fact a negative vote against the anti-people policies of the state Congress government.

The CPI(M) contested 18 seats in the state in order to increase its influence and expand to newer areas. The party retained the Dhond seat, with Amra Ram winning for third time. He defeated his nearest BJP rival by 21,146 votes. Bagging 49,326 votes, the party came second in the Sangaria assembly constituency, and gathered a total of 1,76,124 votes in the 16 seats it contested.

Source: People's Democracy, January 4, 2004

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