Rajasthan polls: As Vasundhara Raje grapples with anti-incumbency, BJP hopes for best but braces for backlash

An old Rajasthani saying gives interesting insight into the mind of the state’s voters. Let me first reproduce it in the local language and then offer a translation: Bhai ke marne ka gam sahi, par bhojai ka tharka jaata raha (it is sad that the brother died, but happy that his wife lost her clout/hubris).

File image of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. PTI

File image of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje. PTI

If you want to understand the upcoming Assembly election in Rajasthan, keep this adage in mind: it explains the psyche of the voter with precision. The mood in the state, as many opinion polls predicting a comfortable lead for the Congress suggest, is of anger against the government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP is set to suffer collateral damage because of the voters' desire to teach local leaders a lesson.

There are clear signs of the BJP’s discomfort everywhere: Its headquarters in Jaipur is deserted, the cadre is missing from the ground and central leadership is making every effort to create the impression that apart from Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, many other state leaders would be part of the candidate selection process. Two MPs—Arjun Ram Meghwal and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat—have emerged as power centres.

There are many theories about Raje’s perceived loss of popularity. One is that she became a victim of the perception that she doesn’t have a good equation with Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. This may or may not be true, but hardcore Modi supporters do not have the kind of trust in her they repose in other BJP chief ministers.

The biggest disadvantage of the shadow of doubt—and the resultant uncertainty—that followed the Raje throughout her tenure has been her inability to get things moving on the ground. This led to the perception of Raje being a non-performer. Raje is one of the most dynamic chief ministers within the BJP parivar. She has a mass base, a broad vision and courage. But insecurity and palace intrigue probably kept her distracted for a long time and as a result, governance suffered. Now, even though she is playing like a batsman in the death overs of a T20, there is a limit to what she can put on the scoreboard.

Raje’s other problem is her inability to interact freely with party leaders, workers and general public. By temperament and instinct, she trusts only a handful of people in her staff and bureaucracy. But, as is the case with every cabal, people in her inner circle have been motivated more by self-preservation and self-aggrandisement. And since Raje has been cut off from the world, she can't get a feel of the mood on the ground or address grievances. As a result, Raje appears to be facing a wave of anti-incumbency.

For a while, the BJP toyed with the idea of projecting an alternative leadership. Some of its leaders argued that had the central leadership taken a decision about the state leadership and stuck to it, the party would have been in a better position ahead of polls. But the BJP was perhaps afraid of letting Raje turn into a martyr or a rebel. With elections just about eight weeks away, the BJP’s only option is to let Raje lead the campaign and hope for the best. Sometimes, a setback is also an opportunity to start afresh.

How Rajasthan’s politics evolves after the Assembly election would be interesting to watch. Its electoral history suggests the party that wins the state goes on to dominate the Lok Sabha polls. But this time, voters are getting an opportunity to vent their anger against the BJP five months ahead of Lok Sabha elections. It won’t be surprising if they rediscover their love for Modi after booting out the state government.

But here is the thing: Rajasthan’s voters are inherently inclined towards rejecting leaders who they perceive to be proud, arrogant and braggarts. The moment they see signs of arrogance, megalomania and absence of humility, they become impatient to plot the downfall of the high and mighty. And when that happens, no amount of collateral damage deters them: including the pain of the demise of the proverbial bhai.

 


Updated Date: Oct 16, 2018 18:11 PM

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