An old man in a village on the outskirts of Jaipur is dismissive when asked about chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s “Mission 25” — the aim to win all 25 seats in the state for Narendra Modi.
“Ambar ko taro haath se koni toote (stars in the sky can’t be plucked by hand),” he says.
Clearly a Congress sympathiser, his response is out of step with the BJP’s runaway success barely four months ago in the Assembly election when it won 163 seats to the Congress’s 21. Going by that result, the 25 Lok Sabha seats should fall in the BJP’s lap.
Rajasthan has a history of one-sided verdicts — in 2004, the BJP won 21 Lok Sabha seats and in 2009, the Congress bagged 20. This time, the BJP has been rampaging in its campaign but the Congress has salvaged some political space since December to offer a fight in several constituencies.
Better candidates with bigger profiles and a connect with the masses are battling the Modi wave, which gives all BJP nominees an advantage, and hoping to ensure Vasundhara’s “Mission 25” remains unfulfilled.
In Ajmer, Alwar, Jaipur Rural, Barmer, Jodhpur, Nagaur, Jhunjhunu, Sikar, Dausa and even Sawai Madhopur, the BJP is facing a tough battle and the result could go either way.
The 163-21 tally of December 2013 does not reveal that the decimated Congress polled around 33 per cent votes against the BJP’s impressive 46 per cent. Many voters hold that while the Congress made certain mistakes, it has largely retained its support base.
People were angry with the election-time spurt in welfare schemes, arguing that the Ashok Gehlot government should have woken up a year earlier. Rising unemployment and prices created discontent among the poor and the middle class.
A teacher in Sawai Madhopur describes the situation thus: “It is not a partisan issue between the Congress and the BJP…. But our children are sitting idle with graduation and MBA degrees. Whoever is in government will face the wrath. People thought if Modi promises to make a change, let him be Prime Minister. Ideologies can be debated later, the first question is survival.”
Some issues that have caused anger in the rural areas could come as a surprise to the Congress. Price rise is one but so is MGNREGA, the rural jobs scheme that Rahul Gandhi flags as one of the UPA’s big successes.
While it has doubtless earned the Congress the goodwill of the backward farm workers, it has also put off many upper caste farmers who complain they cannot get labourers or get them at very high wages.
Controversies surrounding Jat leaders, such as Mahipal Maderna who was jailed in the sex and murder scandal, have contributed to driving the community towards the BJP.
But a factor that could go in favour of the Congress is the stand of Muslim voters, who were upset with the Gehlot government but are now expected to decisively vote against Modi.
A group of youths in Kotputli village in Jaipur Rural, where Rajyavardhan Rathore of the BJP is pitted against Congress veteran C.P. Joshi, explain that Muslim discontent against the Congress is not an issue anymore amid the Modi frenzy.
Rathore, an Olympic silver medallist, offers Modi as a cure-all for all problems. The shooter’s slogan is: “Mera nishana, Modi Sarkar lana.” Modi will end corruption because he is strong, argues Rathore.
Joshi, who has shifted to Jaipur Rural from Bhilwara, is on the other hand warning that it would be dangerous to have Modi as Prime Minister.
The local dynamics in certain constituencies, like Barmer where the veteran Jaswant Singh is giving nightmares to the BJP, and the profile of some Congress candidates make the battle interesting.
The BJP will definitely win most of the seats but if the Congress can save six or seven, that would be no mean achievement.
Rajasthan votes on April 17 and 24.