Rajasthan has alternated between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress in the last five Assembly elections. This means that at the state level, before complacency sets in, a government is toppled and the state reaps the benefits of the rival party's populist promises. In the 2018 Assembly election in the state, this was the Congress' biggest advantage and the BJP's biggest challenge. However, in ground reports from the state in April this year, the fondness for Modi among the people was evident.
There were three clear reasons for this. One was that despite the Opposition’s criticism of GST, the tax regime had in fact benefited traders. Secondly, central schemes like Swachh Bharat, Ujjwala Yojana, Awas Yojana and Jan Dhan Yojana had reached the remotest of villages. Thirdly, a majority of the people in places like Alwar, Ajmer and Jaipur had said that they don’t consider Rahul Gandhi as a serious contender for the post of the prime minister.
On Ajmer’s hilly outskirts, in the villages of Rajorsi, Chahiyawas and Hathundi, there is the Muslim Chitah Mehrat community. The nearly 4 lakh-strong community is spread across 160 villages in Ajmer district. Legend has it that the community is a descendant of the Hindu warrior-ruler Prithviraj Chauhan. Members of the community had said that in the past five years, they experienced access to bank accounts, toilets and LPGs for the first time. Anand, a Chita Muslim whose father recently went back to Hinduism, said that nearly everybody in his village of Rajorsi has a bank account. He said that the Ujjwala Yojana, that replaced firewood with LPG cylinders, and the toilets constructed under the Swachh Bharat Mission, have made the lives of women easier.
“When you ask people about bank accounts or toilets, they will share local implementation errors, but the fact that these people now know what these facilities feel like is something that we couldn’t have thought of,” said Anand, who works as a commercial driver.
He added, “Earlier, MGNREGA wages would be delivered through a channel of local leaders and ‘jamadars’ who would liaise between workers and contractors on a commission basis, and would take their share from the wage labourers. Today, the money comes directly into the bank,” he added.
Eti, an old lady in Chachiyawas, said that earlier, a postman would bring her deceased husband’s pension, but now, the amount is credited directly to her Jan Dhan account. Tej Pratap Rawat, sarpanch of Rajorsi, who oversees the implementation of government schemes, said that six homes had been built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana in his village.
In Jaipur, traders were more or less happy with GST, despite Rahul Gandhi's description of it as "Gabbar Singh Tax". At Jaipur’s Bapu Bazar, KL Jain, who represents the Rajasthan Chamber of Commerce, explained that the recent decision of the central government to double the limit of exemption from payment of GST to Rs 40 lakh, and the setting up of a higher turnover cap of Rs 1.5 crore for availing the composition scheme of paying 1 percent, has brought relief to traders. Mukund Bihari Kalundia, a textile trader said there’s no difficulty in filing a three-month return.
Rakesh Khandelwal, who works at a silver shop, explained that GST has made transactions cashless and a lot more transparent. Kishore Kumar Jain, who transports edible goods across the state, said trucks don’t load goods until they see the transport bill. This reporter had interacted with over a hundred traders in Bapu Bazar, Johri Bazar and Chandpole market. Most were in favour of Modi but had a problem with Vasundhara Raje’s stubborn stand on financial issues, and complained that she rarely took the advice of traders before making decisions.
In the region of Mewat that borders Alwar, Pehlu Khan was lynched in 2014. Here, the Muslim communities were critical of the Congress for adopting a soft-Hindutva approach. When Ashok Gehlot’s Congress became the chief minister, he called for a meeting of the sanchalaks of cow shelters, greatly reducing the expectations of local residents from any parties. The Congress didn’t even speak on the lynchings in the area, to avoid upsetting their soft-Hindutva game and fielded Jitendra Singh from Alwar, who is a member of royalty and former minister of state for sports as well as defence. The BSP fielded Imran Khan, a local leader, who ended up splitting the 3 lakh-strong minority vote. From here, BJP’s Mahant Balak Nath has won by defeating the Congress by 329,971 votes.
There are seven Vidhan Sabha seats in the Mewat block — Kaman, Nagar, Rajgarh-Laxmangarh, Ramgarh, Alwar (gramin), Kishangarh and Kishangarh Bas. In 2018, the BJP lost all seven seats — the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won three of them and the Congress four. The Congress may have spoken about lynchings on the national front and spoken about inclusivity, but didn’t reach out to the locals or do anything to reach out to victims of cow-related violence. An average of seven cases were registered every month in 2017 under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995. The Act imposes restrictions on the free movement of cattle in the state as well as restrictions on the transfer and purchase of cattle. Locals said that before the legislation was passed, cattle trade fairs were held regularly in the region. Most incidents of cow-related violence take place when cows are being transported and owners of cow shelters feel the animals are being smuggled for slaughter.
Since this election was fought in a presidential manner, the fight became about Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, and the former was not popular among the Hindus or the Muslims. A CSDS-Lokniti pre-poll survey asked voters across the country a close-ended question: what they had kept in mind while voting, was it the party or the candidate? Around 17 percent chose none of the two options offered to them and said they voted for the prime ministerial candidate. Nearly one in every three BJP voters and one in every four voters of its allies said that they had voted keeping in mind Modi, rather than the local BJP candidate. The survey indicated that candidates seem to have mattered most to voters of the Congress’ allies, and that party-based voting seems to have happened mostly among voters of the Left parties and the Congress. Modi was the face of the BJP's campaign. Slogans like ‘Modi hai toh Mumkin hai’, ‘Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkaar’ or a more regional slogan ‘Dilli ke Dil mein hai Modi’ were focused purely on the prime minister's appeal.
The BJP's performance in Rajasthan, months after its defeat in the Assembly election, may be because of the sheer reach of the national schemes, irrelevant issues raised by the Opposition and the ability of the prime minister to establish a direct connect with the voters.
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Updated Date: May 24, 2019 19:16:44 IST