Rajasthan Assembly Polls: Is Congress' List Of 76 Candidates A Balancing Act?

With only a month left for the Rajasthan Assembly elections, Congress is lagging behind the BJP, which has announced a total of 124 candidates. Congress has managed to name only 76 candidates, a majority of them being those whose candidatures were certain.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot with Congress leaders Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Sachin Pilot at Mehandipur Balaji Temple

In the run-up to the Rajasthan Assembly elections, it was speculated that the ruling Congress would declare its candidates much earlier than the BJP to give its leaders time to chalk out a winning campaign. However, with exactly a month left for the elections, Congress is lagging behind the BJP, which has announced a total of 124 candidates. In contrast, the Congress has managed to name only 76 candidates so far, a majority of them being names whose candidatures were certain.

At present, the Congress has 108 sitting candidates. The assembly polls of 2023 are crucial for the Congress government. The list of the candidates was issued after rounds of meetings in Delhi with party leaders focussing on reconciliation between the two in the presence of the senior leaders.

A balancing act?

The list, including 15 Cabinet ministers, five Ministers of State and 45 sitting MLAs, is also a mixed bag of the loyalists of sitting Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy Sachin Pilot. Five independent candidates who supported Ashok Gehlot during the 2020 political crisis have got the tickets. Interestingly, while Congress has tried hard to accommodate the loyalists from both camps, the lists have an imprint of more of Ashok Gehlot by retaining most of the sitting MLAs and accommodating the independent MLAs who had supported Gehlot.

Babu Lal Nagar, an Ashok Gehlot loyalist, and Sanyam Lodha, an independent MLA who is also the advisor of the CM, were fielded from the Dudu and Sirohi constituencies. Both had fought the previous election independently and supported the formation of the Rajasthan government under Gehlot's leadership.

Also, while Gehlot's loyalists are featured in the list, three Gehlot loyalists – two cabinet ministers, Shanti Dhariwal and Mahesh Joshi, and Dharmendra Rathore, the Chairman of Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation – who were seen as the architects of the 2022 “rebellion” did not figure in the second list. As per sources in Congress, the party's high command is unlikely to back their candidature.

All three were caught in the controversy in September 2022, when the CLP meeting was cancelled and the party high command allegedly wanted to replace Gehlot with Sachin Pilot as the Chief Minister.

"The party has repeated almost all sitting MLAs as well as supporting Independents, despite the fear of anti-incumbency against the sitting MLAs. The names suggest that the Gehlot was keen to accommodate all his loyalist MLAs who saved his government in 2020 and 2022," a senior Congress leader told Outlook.

Pilot loyalists who accompanied him during the revolt of 2020 – Indraj Gurjar, Mukesh Bhakar and Ramniwas Gawriya – have also been fielded again.

Prominent faces

Apart from the Gehlot and Pilot, the prominent leaders whom the party has fielded include Vishvendra Singh, Raghu Sharma, CP Joshi, Govind Singh Dotasara and Krishna Poonia.

The party has fielded Archana Sharma from Malviya Nagar and Pushpendra Bharadwaj from Sanganer. Both of them had lost the last elections. Interestingly, in the Ramgarh constituency in Alwar district, the party dropped the sitting MLA Safia Zubair but instead gave a ticket to her husband, Zubair Khan, from the same seat.

The former Chief Secretary Niranjan Arya has been fielded from Sojat in Pali district. Also, Sushila Dudi, wife of former Leader of Opposition Rameshwar Dudi, has been fielded from Nokha. Dudi, who lost the Assembly polls in 2018, is hospitalised for two months and is recovering from a brain haemorrhage.

Rajasthan Assembly comprises 200 seats, out of which 141 are general seats, whereas 34 and 25 seats are reserved for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe categories. At present, the ruling Congress party has 108 seats, followed by the main opposition – BJP – with 70 seats; the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has two seats, Rashtriya Lok Dal one seat, Rashtriya Loktantrik Party has three seats, Bhartiya Tribal Party two seats and there are 13 Independent candidates as well.

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 massive tally of 163 seats, on the contrary, Congress performed well under the presidentship of party chief Sachin Pilot and rose from 21 seats to 99.

A month later, Safiya Zubair of Congress won one from Ramgarh in Alwar district and the tally reached 100. Later, Congress won two seats in by-polls. In 2019, Congress candidate Rita Chaudhary won from Mandawa in 2019, and subsequently, Nagraj won from Dhariawad in Pratapgarh district in 2021. Apart from this, the six BSP MLAs who were earlier supporting the Congress from outside joined the party in 2020.