Besides the Congress and the BJP in Rajasthan, where polling is due for all 200 Assembly constituencies this week, a significant factor influencing results in as many as 68 seats would be small parties and rebels from the two main contestants.
Rajasthan has a tradition of electing rebels and smaller party candidates – in 1993 Assembly polls, there were 28 such MLAs, in 1998 the number was 14, in 2003 it was 24, in 2008 the number reached 26, 16 in 2013 and 27 in 2018. In the last Assembly election in 2018, the Congress, at 100 seats, was one short of the simple majority and had to forge an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to form the government. There were as many as 27 independent and small party MLAs in 2018, a majority of whom were supporting Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
In the ongoing Assembly elections, there are at least 30 seats in which smaller parties – including Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) of Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal, BSP, Bharatiya Tribal Party, Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), Azad Samaj Party (ASP) of Chandrshekhar Azad – are influencing voter behaviour considerably.
Additionally, there are about 31 seats in which rebels from both main parties – 17 from the Congress and 14 from the BJP – are instrumental in converting the contest into a triangular one. The BJP and the Congress have tried their level best to convince the rebels to withdraw their candidature, failing which they said disciplinary action would be taken against them. But that has worked only partially and the rebels are spoiling their calculations significantly.
For instance, in Ramgarh Assembly seat, part of the Alwar district in the Mewat region, the BJP has fielded Jai Ahuja, the nephew of its former MLA Gyan Dev Ahuja who was caught on camera admitting that his loyalists have “lynched five people” who were suspected of cow smuggling. The Congress candidate is Zubair Khan, the husband of sitting MLA Safia Khan.
But the voters here seem to be quite favourably inclined towards Sukhwant Singh who is contesting from Azad Samaj Party. Singh is a rebel from the BJP with a considerable following in the area. In the 2018 Assembly elections, he was the BJP candidate from Ramgarh and managed to get 71,083 votes against Safia Khan who secured 8,3311 votes. Sukhwant was ignored in favour of Jai Ahuja by the BJP and he is now contesting as a rebel from Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad’s party. “Sukhwant Singh is our leader. Our votes will go to him,” said Ramji Lal Koli in Ramgarh.
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Several hundred miles away in Kishengarh, the BJP has fielded its Lok Sabha MP from Ajmer, Bhagirath Chowdhary as a candidate. The Congress has fielded Vikas Chowdhary. Both these candidates are Jats who are a dominant community in the constituency. However, the favourite here is independent candidate Suresh Tak, who had won in the 2018 elections as well. In the Kishangarh bazaar, almost every shopkeeper named Tak as his choice for the area legislator.
“I am BJP supporter. But in Kishangarh, I vote for Suresh Tak. He has done a lot for the area,” said Ram Narain, a shopkeeper in Kishangarh.
In a wave-less election, where each seat is being contested on different calculations, even if half of the 68 strong independent and minor party candidates manage to win, it will be a significant number in government formation.