Ashok Gehlot’s record on governance mixed; Congress, BJP locked in neck-neck contest

From a slump two years ago, when it faced high disapproval ratings and an anti-incumbency mood, the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government in Rajasthan has managed to recover lost ground.

But in a tight bipolar contest, the BJP retains an opportunity to make a comeback in the Assembly elections later this year, as well as gain seats in Parliamentary polls. These are some of the key findings of the CNN-IBN-The Hindu-CSDS Election Tracker survey.

If Parliamentary polls are to be held immediately, the Congress and the BJP would be locked in a neck-neck contest.

From winning 47 percentage point vote-share in 2009, Congress is set to dip to 44 per cent, while BJP will gain seven percentage points from 37 to 44 per cent. But there has been a slow turn-around at the state-level.

A CSDS survey in 2011 found only 32 per cent of the voters willing to give Mr. Gehlot another term in office; this number has shot up to 42 per cent.

While 58 per cent were satisfied with his performance then, 65 per cent now say they are satisfied. Political observers in the State attribute this to recent welfare measures announced in the budget, and an effort to reach out to different communities.

But the contest is wide open. The previous Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government is preferred by 35 per cent of the voters, especially among Jats and Gujjars. The Congress government gets poor marks for condition of roads, supply of drinking water, and condition of farmers. The BJP has also managed to tide over an internal factional battle.

With Assembly elections slated for later this year in Rajasthan, there is good news for the Congress government, which had been battling a strong anti-incumbency mood. Despite being rated poorly on key governance indicators, more voters appear willing to give it another chance today than they did two years ago. However, there is still enough space for the BJP to capitalise on existing resentment and make a comeback.

These are the findings of CNN-IBN-The Hindu Election Tracker survey, conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). Voters numbering 19,062, randomly selected across 267 constituencies in 18 States, were interviewed. In Rajasthan, the sample size was 1,691 voters.

If Lok Sabha polls were to be held now, the Congress vote share in Rajasthan would dip from an actual 47 per cent in 2009 to an estimated 44 per cent. The BJP’s vote share would increase from 37 to an estimated 44 per cent. With the 10 percentage point edge in vote share, the Congress had managed to sweep the State in 2009, winning 20 of the 25 parliamentary seats. That gap is set to narrow.

The State has 200 Assembly seats. In 2008, the Congress won 96 seats, 36.82 per cent of the vote, compared to the BJP, which got 78 seats and 34.27 per cent of the vote share.

In a CSDS State of the Nation survey in July 2011, 58 per cent of those polled expressed satisfaction with Mr. Gehlot’s government, while 26 per cent were dissatisfied. Now, 65 per cent are satisfied, while the number of those dissatisfied has gone down to 23 per cent.

In 2011, when asked whether the current government should get another chance, only 32 per cent answered in the affirmative. Forty-three per cent rejected Mr. Gehlot’s continuation in office. But these numbers have reversed. Forty-two per cent now are amenable to giving another chance to the Congress, while 36 per cent reject the idea of a second term.

BJP retains popularity

In what appears to be somewhat contradictory findings, the possible turnaround in Mr. Gehlot’s fortunes has happened even as his predecessor, the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government is still seen to have delivered more effectively. In a direct comparison, 35 per cent of those polled preferred Ms. Raje’s dispensation, while 29 per cent said the current government was better.

When figures are broken down, different social groups seem to respond differently. Forty-three per cent Jats and 38 per cent Gujjars think of the BJP government as better, compared to 23 per cent Jats and 21 per cent Gujjars in favour of Mr. Gehlot. The Congress enjoys higher support among religious minorities and oppressed castes. Forty-two per cent Muslims and 35 per cent Scheduled Castes (SCs) think the Congress has done a better job compared to 28 per cent Muslims and 26 per cent SCs who favour Ms. Raje.

Mixed governance indicators

But as the BJP continues its aggressive campaigning — more people had heard of Ms. Raje’s Suraj Sankalp Yatra than the Congress’s Sandesh Yatra — Mr. Gehlot’s biggest challenge will be countering the perception of misgovernance.

In the past four-and-half years, 43 per cent of those surveyed felt that the supply of drinking water had declined; 42 per cent said the condition of farmers had deteriorated; 35 per cent said job opportunities in the State had dipped; and 35 per cent thought roads were in worse condition than the past. Thirty-nine per cent, however, felt that the pace of development had remained the same.

Views were mixed on inter-community relations. Thirty-five per cent said Hindu-Muslim relations were static, while 30 per cent said it had improved. In a State that had witnessed fierce political competition between different social groups to avail themselves of affirmative action benefits, 42 per cent said inter-caste relations were the same, while 31 per cent said they had improved.

Mr. Gehlot was given high marks for dealing with controversial cases.

Forty-six per cent was satisfied with his handling of the Bhanwari Devi murder case, where former Minister Mahipal Maderna was accused of kidnapping Devi and eventually getting her killed for allegedly blackmailing him for sexual misconduct. He was subsequently dismissed from the Cabinet.

Forty-four per cent — only Muslim responses were factored in — were satisfied with response to the Gopalgarh firing case, where indiscriminate police firing at a mosque had led to loss of 10 lives after inter-community clashes.

Political observers in the State believe that the Congress’s recent welfare measures, announced in the budget, have helped the party, while the BJP will seek to capitalise on the state of the economy. For both though, ticket distribution and internal party management will be key issues as polls approach.

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