The desert State of Rajasthan goes to polls on Sunday, with the ruling Congress and Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party locked in a bitter fight for power, making promises of development and good governance to the electorate. A nascent third front has also come up in the shape of the National People’s Party (NPP).
Over 4.08 crore voters, including 1.92 crore women, will exercise their franchise through 1,21,885 electronic voting machines installed at 47,223 polling stations established across the State to decide the fate of 2,087 candidates.
Polling will take place in 199 of the 200 constituencies in the State. Election has been countermanded in Churu, where BJP heavyweight Rajendra Rathore, facing charges in the Dara Singh fake encounter case, is in the fray following the death of Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Jagdish Meghwal.
The high-pitched and often acrimonious campaigning of the two major parties witnessed during the past fortnight included whirlwind tours of star campaigners such as Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi and BJP president Rajnath Singh and prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi. All of them addressed massive rallies in different parts of the State.
The State Election Department has identified 10,793 polling booths as sensitive and ordered deployment of additional security forces around them.
Chief Election Officer Ashok Jain said 1.19 lakh security personnel, including 509 companies of Central forces, will be deployed to ensure free and fair polling. Voters’ identity cards and slips have been issued to 99.65 per cent of the electors.
In the race are Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who has relied on his government’s flagship schemes as his main poll plank, and State BJP president Vasundhara Raje, who has tried to project her previous regime as a model regime and levelled allegations of failure and corruption against the Congress-led government.
The war of words has led to personal allegations several times on the hustings. While the Congress has alleged that Ms. Raje was absent from the State for five years and mostly stayed in her house in London, the BJP made complaints to the State Election Commission against Mr. Gehlot with charges of extending benefits to his near and dear ones.
Even though the candidates fielded by political parties as well as the Independents made the last-minute attempts to woo voters through door-to-door visits on Saturday, both principal parties are facing a major challenge from their rebels at several seats. The NPP, led in the State by Dausa MP Kirorilal Meena, has also posed a challenge to them and enticed many of their prominent members.
Among the 200 candidates fielded by Congress, there are 19 Ministers and 29 sitting MLAs. The BJP has fielded 200 candidates, BSP 195, NPP 133, Communist Party of India (Marxist) 38, CPI 23 and Nationalist Congress Party 16. Among the contestants in fray, are 166 women and one transgender Mamta Bai.
Gujjar supremo Kirori Singh Bainsla has issued an appeal in favour of Congress, pointing out that the party had made “sincere efforts” for providing reservation to Gujjars and Special Backward Classes, while the previous BJP regime had crushed the quota agitation through police firing. However, the Gujjar community is divided over the issue of political support.
Mr. Gehlot, fighting the polls from Sardarpura in Jodhpur, has sought the voters’ support for Congress on the basis of its performance.
In a statement, the Chief Minister said his government had taken “historic initiatives” for providing social security, education, health, power, water and infrastructure. The BJP has fielded Shambhu Singh Khetasar from Sardarpura against him.
Congress has fielded former National Students’ Union of India State president Meenakshi Chandrawat against Ms. Raje from her constituency Jhalrapatan. While the BJP has projected Ms. Raje as its Chief Ministerial candidate, the Congress has refrained from formally naming Mr. Gehlot, giving rise to speculations that the leaders such as C. P. Joshi, Sachin Pilot or Jitendra Singh could stake their claim if the party is elected to power.
Though Rajasthan has had a history of voting out incumbent party during the last two decades, there is an explicit transformation in the electoral panorama visible this time because of a number of factors, including the entry of NPP, which holds sway over two dozen seats after taking rebels from both the Congress and BJP in its fold.