When in doubt, look for a second seat. Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje is reportedly following one of the oldest dictums of Indian politics by hunting for a constituency that she may be able to win with ease since her old bastion is under constant attack from the Congress.
Two new seats are said to be on her radar—Rajakhera on the Rajasthan-UP border and Sriganganagar on the Rajasthan-Punjab border. If the BJP high command agrees with her decision, Raje may take out an electoral insurance by contesting from two seats in December.
Her traditional seat, Jhalrapatan on the Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh border, is the centre of a relentless and high-profile campaign by the Congress. A few days ago, while Raje was showing her strength in Ajmer, pocket borough of state Congress chief Sachin Pilot, the Congress invited Rahul Gandhi for a road show in the chief minister’s constituency. On Wednesday, Gandhi will be in Jhalrapatan again for an election rally and a roadshow that would cover a large portion of the chief minister’s territory.
The Congress is working on a simple strategy—it wants to pin Raje down to her own constituency during the election, taking her away from the BJP campaign in the state. Since she is the only state BJP leader with a capacity to draw crowds, confining the chief minster to her constituency is one of the important set pieces of the Congress game plan.
In Rajasthan’s politics, Raje has been one of the few leaders to have not lost an election in three decades. During this period, some of her contemporaries and predecessors like Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Congress leader Ashok Gehlot lost at the hustings, but Raje maintained a clean record, winning nine elections — five for the Lok Sabha and four for the state assembly. And since her son Dushyant Singh has been winning Jhalawar — the parliamentary seat she vacated after becoming the chief minister — her electoral clout has remained unchallenged.
However, the 2018 election might be different because of the rising tide of anti-incumbency in the state and her falling popularity. Several opinion polls suggest that the combined popularity of Pilot and Gehlot is almost double that of Raje. Also, the caste equations that helped Raje win Jhalrapatan have been rearranged by the anger among Rajputs and dissatisfaction among upper castes, both traditional voters of the BJP.
In many ways, the anger against Raje is similar to the fury that Prem Singh Dhumal faced in Himachal Pradesh. The resentment is more because of her own image and performance, not because of the party. This is reflected in the popular slogan on the campaign trail that warns Raje of dire political consequences in spite of the voter’s love for Narendra Modi.
Raje’s quest for a second seat is symptomatic of the BJP’s plight in the state. Wary of anti-incumbency and the voter’s penchant for booting out the government in every election, many BJP leaders are trying to shift to new constituencies. However, the BJP might take a policy decision disallowing a change of seat, primarily to hold incumbents accountable for their own destiny.
Updated Date: Oct 22, 2018 19:44 PM