The Congress government led by the 72-year-old incumbent CM Gehlot may have banked on its social security schemes and seven guarantees it promised to the people of Rajasthan, to make a comeback but the results suggest that it was not enough for the public to change their perception of changing the government in every five years, a three-decade-old tradition, existing in the desert state. After losing Rajasthan, Gehlot told reporters that he would go into the reasons behind the adverse election results in Rajasthan, and neighbouring Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Apart from an energetic campaign by the BJP banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma and Hindutva politics, here is a look at the four factors that doomed the Congress party's chances in the electoral battle for the desert state.
1. Infighting within the party
In December 2018, the Congress in Rajasthan swept assembly elections even after it fell one short to cross the majority of 101 of the 200 assembly seats. Congress won 99 seats out of 199 seats on which elections were held. Whereas the opposition BJP led by the former chief minister Vasundhara Raje was reduced to 73 seats from a huge tally of 163 seats, on the contrary, the Congress party performed well under the presidency of party chief Sachin Pilot and rose from 21 seats to 99.
The infighting within the party began exactly from the day when Gehlot was picked for the top post. Gehlot, who was then 67 years old was made the chief minister for a third time and Sachin Pilot who was then heading the Pradesh Congress Committee in the state, was made his deputy. Unhappy with the post, Pilot rebelled in 2020 along with his 18 loyalist MLAs who went to Delhi and camped for over a month which resulted in a political crisis in Rajasthan. Simultaneously, he was removed from the post of Deputy CM and the state unit of the party.
Verbal duels between Gehlot and Pilot supporters over the past three years came in open on several occasions. The status quo prevailed, as Gehlot continued to hold the top post and Pilot kept waiting for his turn.
Pilot's absence was visible until two weeks later when he first time surfaced in the posters promoting the Congress's promises, featuring Pilot and Gehlot together were displayed in the state capital Jaipur, Tonk district, from where Pilot was contesting elections and districts in eastern Rajasthan which is dominated by the Gujjar community. Gujjar community supported the Congress in 2018, which became more evident with BJP having no MLA from the community. But in the 2023 polls, the Gujjar extended their support to BJP.
2. Ticket distribution
Congress was not only 13 days later than its arch-rival in revealing its first list of candidates for the assembly polls but also was reluctant to change the incumbent MLAs. Sources close to Gehlot told Outlook that despite several surveys hinting at the anti-incumbency towards the MLAs, the chief minister ensured that most of them got the tickets. "Gehlot kept saying that the MLAs have helped the Congress to keep its government intact during the rebellion and they need to be accommodated", a source in the Congress party told Outlook.
Congress's seven guarantees were people-friendly. But again the party delayed in releasing its triumph card 'Chiranjeevi health scheme', which it promised to increase from Rs 25 lakh to 50 lakh. The announcement, which featured in its manifesto, was made just four days before the state went to polls.
3. The paper leak scam
The Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan was in the eye of controversy after police investigations revealed that the question paper of the Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers (REET) was stolen from an office of the state education department and leaked. The unemployed youth and teachers are a strong vote bank for any political party. But the entire REET episode not only irked the teachers as well as the unemployed youth who had staged protests earlier but also reflected in the 2023 poll results. This time out of 5.25 crore, around 22 lakh were first-time voters.
4. Outrage over atrocities against women in Rajasthan
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had mounted an offensive on Ashok Gehlot’s Congress government in Rajasthan on the issue of women’s safety as the recently-published National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report showed that the state reported the highest number of rapes in 2021 and the second-highest number of overall crimes against women.
The NCRB report showed that Rajasthan ranked second after Uttar Pradesh in overall crimes against women in 2021 and reported the highest number of rape cases in the country at 6,337. This marked an annual increase of 19.34 per cent as 5,310 cases were reported in 2020.
The BJP left no stone unturned to attack Gehlot’s Congress government. The NCRB report had given BJP the fodder to hit the government over law and order. In public rallies as well as on social media, most of the Opposition leaders criticised the Gehlot government.
However, Gehlot who also held the post of the home minister, countered the BJP by saying that the state’s policy of registering all complaints as FIRs is the reason behind the high numbers. Rajasthan police then said that a large number of false cases are also the reason that Rajasthan is topping the charts.