In the 2014 general election, the Bharatiya Janata Party won all 25 parliamentary constituencies in Rajasthan. This year, the Lok Sabha elections in the state have been scheduled over two phases: 13 constituencies in the southern part of the state went to polls on 29 April, while the remaining 12 constituencies in the north and east will vote on 6 May. The first phase included constituencies that are considered BJP strongholds, but the Congress is hoping to outdo the BJP in the second phase. This optimism is borne from the results of the December 2018 assembly elections.
In 2018, the Congress formed the government in Rajasthan after winning 99 seats in the 200–seat assembly. Most of the Congress’s gains came from the assembly constituencies that will vote in the second phase of the state’s Lok Sabha elections. The 12 Lok Sabha seats in the north and east correspond to 99 assembly seats. Of these, the Congress won 57, while the BJP got 23. On the other hand, the 13 Lok Sabha constituencies that voted in the first phase correspond to 101 assembly seats, of which the Congress got 43, while the BJP won 50. If these electoral patterns carry over to the parliamentary elections, the Congress stands to gain in the second phase of polls.
“In 2018, the Congress performance in the second phase constituencies was good and this is one area where the party is likely to do well, if you take the aggregate of the vote gap of 2018 and project it to the 2019 elections,” Sanjay Lodha, a professor of political science at the Mohanlal Sukhadia University in Udaipur, told me. Lodha is also the Rajasthan state coordinator of the Lokniti programme, a research arm of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a social science research institute. “The gap between the Congress and BJP is too big for even a pro-Modi sentiment to bridge,” he added.
Lodha explained that the winning margin in 2018 in at least four of the phase two constituencies was at least six percentage points in favour of the Congress. According to him, the gap between the total votes cast for the Congress and the BJP in Jhunjhunu constituency was six percentage points, in Jaipur Rural it was eight percentage points, in Karauli-Dholpur it was 12 and in Nagaur it was 10.
“This area is our vote bank,” Mahesh Sharma, the general secretary of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee, told me, referring to the second phase constituencies. “The results from these constituencies in the 2018 assembly elections in favour of the Congress mean that we are expecting to do better in the second phase. The reason is that voters who voted for Modi in 2014 are returning to the Congress now.”
To get a sense of the ground realities, I travelled to the Bharatpur Lok Sabha constituency, which accounts for seven assembly seats. The BJP did not win a single assembly segment from this region. I stopped at Halena, a rural hamlet straddling the Jaipur-Agra highway and walked over to the Jatav mohalla, half a kilometre off the main road. Jatavs are a sub-caste of the Dalit community. “The BJP says one thing and does another,” Mahendra Singh Rajoria, a farmer, told me. “What happened to the BJP’s promises of providing jobs and depositing Rs 15 lakh in every account? Our votes are going to the Congress.” Rajoria owns about a third of an acre of farm land on which he grows wheat and mustard. “The BJP has been bad for agriculture, I barely get market prices for my crops,” Rajoria added.
In the same hamlet, I met Manoj Kumar Jatav, who works in a brick kiln near Halena. He earns around Rs 300 in daily wages. “Modi’s slogan was ‘I will reduce poverty’—he has instead further reduced the poor people,” Manoj said. “If the BJP comes back to power, they will end reservations.”
In Bharatpur, I also met Abhijeet Kumar Jatav, the Congress candidate for the Bharatpur Lok Sabha constituency. Abhijeet has a master’s degree in business administration from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He then joined the Indian Revenue Services, from which he took voluntary retirement in 2013. In an interview at the Congress party office, after he had finished campaigning for the day, Abhijeet told me that he, too, expected the Congress to perform better in the second phase of the Rajasthan polls.