Bollywood actress Ameesha Patel during an election rally in support of Congress candidates for the Rajasthan state assembly elections, in Jaipur. The state goes to polls on December 7. Image Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Entering the final phase of the ongoing election season, the main political parties — ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition Congress — are going all out to woo voters in Rajasthan, a battlefield that is wide open and could be anyone’s game. The assembly election in the state is scheduled for December 7.

The BJP has been in power in Rajasthan since 2013, when Vasundhara Raje became the Chief Minister. Significantly, Rajasthan has not voted a party to power for consecutive terms since 1998 assembly election.

BJP and the Congress have shared power alternatively in the state. However, union minister and senior BJP leader Prakash Javadekar told Gulf News that the election this time would budge the trend of voting out the government.

“This election will prove this trend wrong. The politics has changed quite a lot in the last four years. It was four years ago that BJP secured single-party majority for the first time in 30 years in a general election and Narendra Modi became Prime Minister (PM),” he said.

200

Assembly seats in the state. BJP won 163 seats in the 2013 polls

In its election rallies, BJP has been mocking Congress president Rahul Gandhi for not declaring the chief ministerial candidate. BJP chief Amit Shah stated that Congress was a party which “does not have a leader, policy or principles.”

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh also challenged Congress to declare its chief ministerial candidate first.

“BJP is a party of patriots led by Narendra Modi. Congress is ready with the ‘baarat’ (wedding procession), without deciding who will be its ‘dulha’ (groom). Have you ever seen such a marriage,” Singh said in one of the rallies in the state.

Congress president Gandhi, in turn, launched an attack on Modi and said that the PM has broken every promise he made in the last four years. The party has accused the government of indulging in crony capitalism, a charge which has been vehemently denied by the BJP.

“If you are treating the richest people in the country, and you are giving them loan waiver, then you owe that to the farmers of the country. We are not asking for any free gift for farmers; we are just saying that whatever you do, you treat everyone fairly,” Gandhi said.

Last week, Congress released its manifesto for the Rajasthan assembly polls. Party chief Sachin Pilot said that the document was carefully crafted after taking into account around 200,000 suggestions from people through various platforms.

Some of the salient features of the manifesto are the loan waivers for farmers, and free education for women and the girl-child.

BJP manifesto for the elections carried promises for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). The party announced that the state government will spend about Rs50 billion (Dh2.61 billion) in the next five years for the development of tribal areas and the welfare of SCs.

An interesting factor is that the SC (17.8 per cent) and ST (13.5 per cent) account for Rajasthan’s 31.3 per cent population and are key to who rules the state.

BJP won 50 out of the 59 seats reserved for SCs and STs in Rajasthan to return to power in the state in 2013. Congress bagged 34 of the reserved seats in the 200-member assembly and went on to form the government in the state five years earlier.

Main parties

The main fight is between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress. However, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are also contesting alongside several other local parties. Many political leaders including sitting Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), Member of Parliament (MP) and former ministers of BJP joined Congress before the elections. Later a few leaders of Congress also joined the BJP.

Key candidates

Vasundhara Raje Scindia

Vasundhara Raje Scindia held the post of 13th Chief Minister (CM) of Rajasthan since 2013; previously she served in the same post from 2003 to 2008, and was the first woman to hold the post. In 1984, Raje entered the Indian political system. Initially, she was made a Member of the National Executive of BJP. She was also elected as a member of the eighth Rajasthan assembly from Dholpur. The same year, she was appointed as Vice President of Rajasthan BJP Yuva Morcha.

She is contesting from Jhalrapatan, where she is pitted against Manvendra Singh, son of former BJP leader Jaswant Singh. Manvendra recently switched camps from BJP to Congress.

Ashok Gehlot

Ashok Gehlot is Congress’ national general secretary and in-charge of party’s organisations and training wing. He was the Chief Minister (CM) of Rajasthan from 1998 to 2003 and again from 2008 to 2013. He was influenced by the teachings of Mahatama Gandhi at a very young age and was actively engaged in social work even as a student. During 1971’s East Bengal refugees crisis, he served in the refugee camps in the eastern states of India. It is there when former prime minister (PM) Indira Gandhi first identified his organisational skills during one of her visits to the refugee camps. Gehlot will be contesting the state elections from his stronghold in Sardarpura constituency.

Sachin Pilot

Sachin Pilot, a member of Congress, represents Ajmer constituency as a parliamentarian. He was the minister of corporate affairs in the second Manmohan Singh government and is currently president of Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee (RPCC). Pilot became the first union minister to be commissioned as an officer in the Territorial Army (TA), fulfilling his desire to follow his father’s footsteps to be in the armed forces. He is therefore known as Lieutenant Pilot for being an officer in TA.

He is contesting from Muslim-dominated Tonk constituency. This will be first state assembly elections of his political career.

Key issues

The major issues are farmer distress and unemployment.

■  Farmer distress: Around 60 per cent of workers in the state depend on agriculture for a livelihood. Falling prices, weak government procurement and low minimum support price (MSP) for some crops have caused a great deal of distress to farmers.

Unemployment: Unemployment is the biggest issue in the assembly polls this year. In its poll manifesto, BJP has promised 30,000 new government jobs every year and 5 million employment opportunities over the next five years. On the other hand, Congress, in its manifesto, has promised a monthly allowance of Rs3,500 to all unemployed educated persons in Rajasthan.

Drinking water: According to a Niti Aayog report, just 44 per cent of Rajasthan’s rural habitations were “fully covered” by drinking water supply. In July, the Aayog urged the state government to improve the access rate and quality of drinking water in rural areas. Niti Aayog, also National Institution for Transforming India, is a policy think-tank of the union government, established with the aim to achieve sustainable development goals by fostering involvement of state governments in the policy-making process.

Law and order: The law and order situation is considerably poor in Rajasthan. There is social disharmony with several cases of mob lynching, cow vigilantism and social unrest on the rise.

Total seats

There are 200 legislative assembly seats in Rajasthan. The assembly meets at Vidhana Bhavan situated in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan.

Total population

According to 2011 census, Rajasthan has a total population of 68,621,012 people, out of which, 51,540,236 constitute rural population while 17,080,776 stay in urban areas.

Total voters

Over the last five years, Rajasthan has added 67,53,000 new voters to take the total number of voters in the state to 4,74,79,402, according to state chief electoral officer Anand Kumar. Out of the 4,74,79,402 voters, 2,47,60,755 are men while 2,27,18,647 are women.

Incumbent

The last Rajasthan state election was held on December 1, 2013. The Congress, led by then Chief Minister (CM) Ashok Gehlot, lost the elections to Vasundhara Raje-led BJP.

Total voting turnout was 74.38 per cent, the highest ever in Rajasthan assembly election. Overall, BJP got 163 seats as against 21 seats won by the Congress.