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Rajasthan: Dissatisfaction and a Poor Campaign Defeat BJP

The popular mood in Rajasthan seemed to be that the Vasundhara Raje government deserved a second chance, but dissatisfaction with it on specific issues and a poorly-run campaign saw the Congress squeak ahead. The Congress success came from regaining supremacy in the adivasi belt and a polarisation of women voters in its favour.

STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 7, 200923Rajasthan: Dissatisfaction and a Poor Campaign Defeat BJPSanjay LodhaThe popular mood in Rajasthan seemed to be that the Vasundhara Raje government deserved a second chance, but dissatisfaction with it on specific issues and a poorly-run campaign saw the Congress squeak ahead.The Congress success came from regaining supremacy in the adivasi belt and a polarisation of women voters in its favour. The verdict of the people of Rajasthan presents a puzzle because if we go by the available evidence on popular opinion and attitudes, the Vasundhara Raje government was fairly popular righttill the end. As in the surprising defeatofAshok Gehlot’s Congress government in 2003, a state government which was on balance popular was ousted. Interpreting the re-sults of the Rajasthan assembly election of 2008 is, therefore, an analytical challenge.A number of explanations have been offered for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s defeat. The Congress describes it as an outcome of the people’s anger against all excesses of the Raje re-gime and five years of gross misgovern-ance. Within the BJP, different reasons have been offered by different sections. One section says that the party failed in conveying its admirabledevelopment record to the people because of a lack of coordination between the party and the government. Another section feels that the defeat was a result of overplay-ing the leadership of Raje, ignoring the claims of the senior party leadership. The debacle is seen as resulting from her high-profile personality, arrogant behaviour and autocratic selection of candidates. Some commentators think that theBJP lost because of the divisive politics pursued by Raje and the opera-tion of a strong anti-incumbency factor. The difficulty with most of these expla-nations is that they are not grounded in any systematic evidence.This article combines two sets of evi-dence to understand the popular verdict in the state. First, it seeks to analyse the official data on turnout and electoral out-come to understand some trends and patterns. Second, it uses pre-and post-poll surveys in the state carried out by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, and the Institute of Social and Cultural Research, Udaipur, to understand the mind of the voters and the reasons for their political behaviour.1 A Narrow and Complex VictoryLet us begin with the final outcome. Though a clear majority eluded the Con-gress, it emerged as the single largest party winning in 96 constituencies, a gain of 40 seats. The BJP was victorious in 78 constituencies, 42 seats less than in 2003. Although theBJP’s vote share declined by about 5 percentage points, the Congress gained a little over 1 percentage point since the 2003 election. The loss of the BJP, therefore, was more than the gain of the Congress; the remainder was garnered by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and others. This is what prevented a clear majority from emerging; something quite reminiscent of the BJP victory in the state in 1993. There was no wave in favour of anyone or against anyone. This election represented a limited though decisive shift away from the BJP that needs to be understood.The shift was not a simple, unidirec-tional affair. A rough comparison of the pre-delimitation constituencies with the new ones in this election suggests a high level of churning of seats. The Congress snatched 58 seats from the BJP and retained 20 whereas the BJP snatched 20 from the Congress and retained 30. The Congress thus lost 16 seats to non-BJP parties or independent candidates and the BJP lost 32 seats to non-Congress contest-ants. However, the BJP proved smarter in the 36 new constituencies created by the delimitation process, winning 20. The Congress could win only 13 of these. Three were shared by the BSP, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI(M) – and the Samajwadi Party (SP). The large-scale political upheaval caused by delimitation meant that only 29 incumbent legislators won in their old constituencies. In the remaining 171, voters elected new representatives or sitting MLAs from new seats. The extent of churn is confirmed by an analysis of the flow of votes from the survey data: while the BJP and the Congress snatched about the same proportion of votes from each other and lost about the same Sanjay Lodha ( is at the Department of Political Science, Mohan Lal Sukhadia University, Udaipur.
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08february 7, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly24proportion to the BSP, the real difference lay in their respective retention rate. The BJP could retain only 57% of those who voted for it in 2003 while the Congress retained 66%. An analysis of the self- identified “traditional supporters” of both parties reinforces this point: while the Congress and theBJP had about the same level of “traditional voters”, the Congress retained 84% of them compared to the BJP’s 71%.To some extent, the BSP holds the key to the messy nature of the verdict. The party increased its tally from two to six seats and almost doubled its vote share. It emerged as a formidable force in the north as well as the Matsya region and mustered more than 10,000 votes in 52 assembly constitu-encies. The result punctured the percep-tion that theBSP had been making inroads only into the traditional support base of the Congress. Though the Congress lost 8% of its voters of 2003 to the BSP, the BJP also lost 5%. While it was true that the BSP was more supported by the dalits, it also received the backing of non-dalit social sections. Given that the BJP had also been garnering a lot of support among the dalits, it was exposed to forays by theBSP. How-ever, what might worry the BJP more is the dent being made by the BSP into the votes of the forward castes and a few other backward classes (OBC).An analysis of the aggregate data offers some clues to what worked and what did not. Urban Rajasthan clearly voted in favour of the BJP. In the 25 constituencies where more than half the electorate was urban, theBJP won in as many as 19 while the re-maining six were pocketed by the Congress. The BJP enjoyed a lead of nearly 9 per-centage points over the Congress in the predominantly urban seats, while it trailed the Congress by four points in the predomi-nantly rural seats. One crucial bit of the Con-gress success came from its regaining supremacy in the adi-vasi belt. Of the 25 seats reserved for scheduled tribes, the Congress won 16, the BJP two, and inde-pendents four while one seat each was shared by the BSP, Janata Dal (United) and the SP. The same pattern held in the 30 seats where the sched-uled tribes comprise more than 20% of the population: the Con-gress won in as many as 23 toBJP’s tally of a paltry four. In terms of regions, the Congress gained an upper hand in the north, central, south and Haroti regions of the state. The honours were equally shared by the Congress and theBJP in the west while the BJP got the better in the Matsya region to the east. The BJP suffered substantial losses in the tribal belt of south Rajasthan. Much political activity had taken place in the north and Matsya regions. While the northern region was the home of farmers’ protests against inadequate irrigation and electricity for cultivation, the Matsya region was in the limelight because of the Gujjar movement and Gujjar-Meena tensions. The electoral outcome inthese two regions bears the strong impact of these two agitations and their inept handling by theBJP government and also the Congress. The electoral spoils in these re-gions,therefore, accrued to other political forces, theCPI(M), BSP and independent candidates. The BJP suffered less reverses in the west and central parts of the state since many of the urban constituencies fell within these regions.Governance and LeadershipAs mentioned in the beginning, a popular evaluation of the record of governance does not help explain an incumbent party’s defeat. The pre-and the post-poll surveys show that there was no indication of pop-ular resentment against the BJP govern-ment. In 2003 too a majority of the elec-tors who were interviewed said that they were “satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the Gehlot government. This time, nearly 36% of those interviewed ex-pressed “full satisfaction” and 33% expressed “some satisfaction” with the five-year rule of theBJP government. Only 23% of the respondents expressed “full” or “some dissatisfaction”. The satisfaction level was as high as 70% when the re-spondents were asked about the work done by Raje as the chief minister of the state. The survey further revealed that in the popular preference for the chief minister’s post, Raje was 9 percentage points ahead of Gehlot. Nearly two-thirds oftherespondents said that Raje herself wasnotcorrupt although more than one-fourth regarded her colleagues as being corrupt. When the respondents were asked to compare the Gehlot-led Congress government with the Raje-ledBJP govern-ment,theyconsidered the latter was better for the development of the state as well as for controlling corruption.In the pre-poll survey undertaken in the last week of November, the respondents reported an improvement in infrastructure Table 2: Rajasthan Assembly Election Results by Regions and Urban-Rural (2008) Congress BJP BSP OthersRegions Seats Turnout Seats Vote Seats Vote Seats Vote Seats Vote (%) (%) (%) (%) (%)North 39 69.51933.11229.22 11.06 26.7West 4363.02037.12036.006.5320.3Central 3664.81535.61335.11 4.9 7 24.4Matsya 3067.3 8 29.21730.53 16.22 24.1South 3568.32444.2936.502.9216.4Haroti 1766.7 1044.17 41.7 0 3.8 0 10.4Urban 2559.9 6 38.7 1947.9 0 3.2 0 10.3Rural 175 67.49036.65932.56 8.2 2022.8Urban stands for a constituency with over 50% of the electorate in urban agglomerations defined by the census.Source: CSDS Data Unit.Table 1: Assembly Election Results in Rajasthan (1993-2008)Party 199319982003 2008 Vote % Seats Vote % Seats Vote % Seats Vote % SeatsBJP 38.60 9633.23 3339.16 120 34.27 78Congress 38.27 7644.95 153 35.64 5636.82 96BSP – – 2.162 3.97 2 7.606CPI 0.33–0.21–0.19–0.29–CPI(M) 0.9110.8210.7711.623JD (U) 6.87 6 1.97 3 0.90 2 0.45 1SP ––0.20–0.87–0.761Others and independents15.02 21 16.49 8 18.50 19 18.18 15Source: CSDS Data Unit and Statistical Reports, Election Department, Rajasthan.Table 3: Public Opinion on Changes in the Quality of Infrastructure during the BJP Regime in Rajasthan (% of respondents) During the Last Five Years, Improved Remained Deteriorated How Has the Condition of Same ….. Changed? Roads 562913Government hospitals 41 40 12Electricity supply 42 37 16Government schools 43 35 12Drinking water 42 35 15Irrigation facilities 29 43 15Rest of the respondents had no opinion. Source: Rajasthan Assembly Elections Study 2008, pre-poll survey.
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 7, 200925facilities during theBJP regime although there were reservations about irrigation facilities (Table 3, p 24). Not only this, in the post-poll survey, 43% of the respond-ents were in favour of giving the BJP another chance to form the government. However, all was not well in popular perception. The pre-poll survey did reveal people’s anxiety about increasing prices, growing insecurity, corruption and social relations. Besides, there were certain other issues which related to more imme-diate policy matters (Table 4). Allegations like the government being corrupt and city-centred, promoting the free flow of liquor to raise revenue, and accentuating social divisions by doling out reservation benefits placed the BJP in a poor light. These matters worried the people of the state and may have eventually contributed to influencing their voting preferences.Campaign and StrategiesApart from a negative assessment of the BJP government on the above-mentioned issues, reasons for its defeat could also be found in its political strategy and ineffec-tive campaign. The BJP’s surprising victo-ry in the assembly election of 2003 is often attributed to the master strategy designed and executed by the late Pramod Mahajan. Organisational discipline, commitment of the cadre, substantial spadework before the election and a very high profile cam-paign had been the distinguishing fea-tures of theBJP in the state. However, all this was not evident this time. The party delayed the declaration of its candidates as well as the election manifesto and no concerted effort was made by the leader-ship to pacify the disaffection not only among the ticket aspirants but also among the old guard. The cadre felt neglected and appeared disoriented. The disjunction between the cadre and the BJP leadership was reflected in the latter’s calculation that the Mumbai terror strikes would persuade people to vote heavily against the Congress. After the Mumbai terror strikes on 26 November, the BJP campaign concentrated exclusively on the failure of the Congress-led United Pro-gressive Alliance government in tackling terrorism, linking it in a very subtle man-ner to Muslim fundamentalism and the so-called policy of “appeasement”. Our evidence suggests that this may have mis-fired. The post-poll survey revealed that 46% of the respondents had not heard about the Mumbai incident. Only about 9% said it made a difference to their voting decision. In all, theBJP’s net reported gain from the Mumbai incident was less than 1% of the total votes. The slogan which dominated the BJP’s campaign, Ab nahi rukega Rajasthan (“No one can stop Rajasthan now”), was forgotten in the aftermath of the Mumbai tragedy.Conversely, the Con-gress, which had dith-ered aimlessly after the BJP came to power in 2003, appeared reju-venated during the campaign period. It emerged out of a long period of hibernation, invoking all those issues which it ought to have raised in opposition. The rallying theme for the party was Raj badal kar dam lega ab nahi jhukega Rajasthan (“Rajasthan will change the government and it will not bow now”). Targeting Raje and her regal lifestyle, the Congress made free use of the slogan “8 pm no CM”. For more than a week, the party came up with a number of new issues every day in the major newspapers of the state per-taining to corruption, crime, shady land deals in major cities, poor development strategies, gross mishandling of agita-tions by the farmers and the Gujjars, atrocities against women and minorities, and the divisive politics of the BJP and its government. It was a very effective and well-orchestrated campaign, something like which the BJP had mastered over the years.Table 5 provides a vivid picture of the impact all these factors had on the voting decision of the people. The survey showedthat of the 26% who decided their voting preference before the start of the campaigning, 42% voted for Congress and 41% for the BJP. The two parties were, therefore, almost on the same line when the race started. However, the BJP lost in the middle of the race. Of the 27% who made their voting choice during the cam-paign period, 43% voted for the Congress, 22% for others and 35% for the BJP. This trend persisted among those who made their minds a day or two before voting day. And these accounted for 20%t of the entire sample. The BJP recovered some ground in the last leg of the race but the Table 4: Assessment of BJP Government on Policy Issues(% of respondents)Do You Agree with the Statement That ….? Fully Agree Fully Disagree No OpinionDuring the BJP regime only urban areas were developed at the cost of rural areas 31 14 23It is good to open liquor shops to raise governmentincome 16 38 19Careless governance led to worsening of Gujjar-Meenarelations 27 14 25It is good to give 5% reservation to Gujjars 21 23 30There has been gross corruption in land deals 20 12 43In-between categories not reported here.Source: Rajasthan Assembly Elections Study, 2008, pre-poll survey.Table 5: When Did You Finally Make Up Your Mind on Whom to Vote For?(in %)Decision to Vote/Party Congress BJP BSP IND OthersOn the day of polling 28 36 10 22 4A day or two before polling 33 30 7 27 3During the campaign 43 35 9 9 4Before the campaign started 42 41 3 11 3Source: Rajasthan Assembly Elections Study, 2008, post-poll survey.Table 6: Vote for Congress and BJP by Major Caste Groups (2003 and 2008)Caste-Community/Party CongressBJPGapBJP-Cong 2003 20082003 2008 20032008Upper castes 29 27 48 52 19 25Jat 3136443513-1Gujjar 2027452225-5Other dominant peasant castes 26 26 56 58 30 32Other OBC 30 31 50 41 20 10SC 40423219-8-23ST 44493633-8-16Muslim 67821411-53-71All figures in per cent of the caste mentioned in the first column. Figures in the last two columns for “Gap BJP-Congress” are for the percentage point lead enjoyed by BJP (votes for BJP minus votes for Congress) in a given social group. A negative score indicates that the Congress led over the BJP in the relevant social group.Source: Rajasthan Assembly Elections Study, 2003 and 2008, post-poll survey.We are grateful to Suhas Palshikar, Yogendra Yadav and Lokniti for putting together this special issue that analyses a set of assembly elections.A related essay “Principal State Level Contests and Derivative National Choices: Electoral Trends in 2004-09” by Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar is published on pp 55-62 of this issue.
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08february 7, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly26effort came too late and only 18% made up their minds on polling day. Caste, Class and GenderIn the run-up to the elections there was much media hype about the voting be-haviour of major communities like the Jats, the Gujjars and the Meenas. It was thought that the Jats would once again support the BJP. With the government promising a 5% reservation to the Gujjars within theOBC category, this community was also expected to side with the BJP. The Meenas, displeased by the soft stand of the BJP on the Gujjar issue and the rough treatment meted out to Kirori Lal Meena, were expected to support the Congress. However, things did not happen as per expectations. In the final analysis (Table 6, p 25), the Jat, Gujjar and Meena vote was not deci-sive. Meenas, mostly in the Matsya region, voted against the BJP but more for the BSP and independents than the Congress. The Gujjar voters were divided, a little to the Congress’ advantage. Jat voters were distributed almost equally among the three political groups. The Congress came close to regaining its famous “rain-bow” character with more support among the dalits, adivasis and the Muslims. The BJP, after a brief honeymoon with the dalits and adivasis, reassumed the role of a party of the upper and dominant castes. The survey data also shows that more than caste, there was a direct relation-ship between vote and class with the BJP enjoying a distinct edge among the upper classes and the Congress being favoured by the poorer classes. This is not new to Rajasthanpoliticsand has been a feature of the Congress-BJP contest in much of north-west India.While there was a lot of discussion about caste voting, little attention was paid to women as a voting bloc. The data on electoral turnout and outcome shows that women voters played a crucial, per-haps decisive, role in this election. Two crucial developments were responsible for this. First, turnout among women touched a new high. The last four assembly elections in the state have witnessed a consistent fall in the gap between male and female turnout, from 11.7% in 1993 to only 1.9% this time (Table 7). This was accompanied by the second trend of po-larisation of women voters towards the Congress. TheBJP had a one-point lead over the Congress among men voters, but it trailed by six points among women (Table 8). Interestingly, in the housewife category, which constituted one-third of the entire sample, the Congress led the BJP by 11 points. Thus greater mobilisa-tion of women voters and their polarisa-tion against the BJP was one of the cru-cial factors in tilting the outcome in fa-vour of the Congress. Hard evidence of this lies in that in the 60 constituencies where more women voted than men, the Congress won 34 while the BJP could win only 18. ConclusionsLike its neighbouring Hindi-speaking states that went to polls along with it, Rajasthan evidenced a fair amount of satisfaction with the incumbent govern-ment. But unlike those states, it witnessed the defeat of the rulingBJP government and a slender victory for the Congress. It is argued here that a favourable assessment of the incumbent government on infra-structure facilities may not necessarily result in a positive electoral verdict. There are other things too which the people take into account before determining their political preference. Moreover, different sections of people may have different per-ceptions about which political actor is more likely to protect their interests. And finally, a positive political sentiment may not get translated into votes if a matching political effort is not made to encash that sentiment. TheBJP was found wanting in election management and failed to read the people’s mind. Its government could not address some of their pressing con-cerns. Beneath the layer of performance-related satisfaction one could detect re-sentment among various social sections. This coupled with somewhat tardy cam-paign management produced a defeat when victory was possible. Note 1 Survey data used in this analysis refer to these two surveys. The fieldwork for the pre-poll survey was conducted from 24 to 27 November and the post-poll survey was done from 4 to 6 December. For the two rounds of survey, the same voters were interviewed in their homes. The post-poll survey was conducted soon after the voting was over on 4 December and the fieldwork was com-pleted a day before the counting began. The sample was selected in three stages. First, 20 assembly constituencies were selected. Then the polling stations where the survey would be done were chosen (four from each constituency). Fi-nally, the respondents who would be interviewed were identified from the electoral roll. Of a total of 1,600 listed respondents, 1,573 were inter-viewed. A team of 40 trained field investigators conducted the fieldwork which was coordinated by Sanjay Lodha and supervised by Lalit Kuma-wat. The team at theCSDS comprised Praveen Rai, Dhananjai Joshi, Himanshu Bhattacharya and Banasmita Bora. Table 7: Turnout in State Assembly Elections in Rajasthan by Gender(1993-2008, as % of electorate)Election and Year Male Female Total Gender GapX Election 1993 65.3 53.6 60.2 11.7XI Election 1998 67.6 58.9 63.5 8.7XII Election 2003 69.9 64.2 67.2 5.7XIII Election 2008 67.3 65.4 66.4 1.9“Gender gap” is defined here as per cent turnout among men minus per cent turnout among women.Source:Statistical Report, General Elections to the Vidhan Sabha 1993-2003, Election Department, Rajasthan. Table 8: Rajasthan Assembly Elections, 2003 and 2008: Vote by Gender(as % of electorate)Gender/Party Congress BJP 2003200820032008Male 35364337Female 34384033Source: Rajasthan Assembly Elections Study, 2003 and 2008, Post-poll survey.EPW Archives (1966-1998) EPW is pleased to offer to its readers digitised pages of the journal from the years 1966-98.The archives are hosted at the EPW web site. Please see “Archives 1966-1998” on the home page.The address is: archives are available to all subscribers of EPW. They are hosted on a separate page and in a format different from the post-1999 archives.The pages for all the volumes for 1978-98 are now available.Gradually, working backwards pages of all issues from 1966 onwards will be accessible by 31 March 2009. Readers are encouraged to read the detailed description of and introduction to the 1966-98 archives on the opening page of this section on the web site.Access to these archives is restricted to print/web subscribers of EPW.Please do subscribe to the journal to access these archives.

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