BJP, Congress locked in a close fight in Rajasthan (Curtain raiser)

December 2nd, 2008 - 5:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyJaipur, Dec 2 (IANS) Rajasthan, the largest state of India, is likely to witness a close contest between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress as it goes to polls Thursday to elect a 200-member assembly.Over 36 million voters are eligible to vote and decide the fate of 2,194 candidates, including 1,023 independents, who are in the fray. There are 42,573 polling stations. The BJP has at present 121 legislators and Congress 53.

The fight this time seems to be heading for a nail-biting finish between the two parties, who have been troubled by rebels and factionalism. This is besides players like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Lok Janshakti Party, which will cut into the BJP and the Congress votes in varying degrees.

In the last assembly elections in 2003, the BJP had polled 39.19 percent votes while the Congress had bagged 35.64 percent. It has always been a bi-polar contest in the state. This time, however, BSP is trying to make a dent and emerge a third force.

Though the BSP had won only 2 seats out of 124 assembly seats it contested in 2003 elections, it was able to increase its vote share from 2.17 percent in 1998, when it fought the first time here, to 3.98 percent in 2003.

The party this time is fighting for all the 200 seats and only the results will prove if it has made an impact. The BSP, however, is confident of making a mark in this election and there were huge crowds at Mayawati’s rallies providing an indication that her party will be a major force.

The electioneering in the state revolved around the issues of development and corruption. While the BJP raised the issue of development that Rajasthan had seen in the last five years, the Congress talked about corruption.

BJP also targeted the UPA government at the Centre on terrorism and its in ability to curb inflation.

During the last few days of campaigning, BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje raked up the Nov 26 Mumbai terror strikes and condemned the Congress government for being unable to prevent the attacks despite adequate warnings.

BJP state spokesperson Arun Chaturvedi, however, told IANS: “Our strategy in this elections has been to showcase the achievements of the Vasundhra Raje government and expose the failure of the Congress-led government at the centre in controlling terrorism and price rise”.

The Congress, on the other hand, targeted the BJP government in the state on corruption and deteriorating law and order situation.

“Raje government has failed on all fronts. The dalits, minorities and women under this government were feeling insecure”, said B.D. Kalla, former state president of the Congress.

“Land, tourism, liquor mafias are freely roaming around. Since the BJP came to power development did take place, but of the land mafia and criminals. We raised these issues in our campaigning”, Kalla added.

Political analysts are divided over which party’s prospects are better. “There does not seem to be an undercurrent for any party, so it has become difficult to predict. But it is certain this will be a close battle with rebels creating problems for the two main contenders,” said Vijay Sharma, a political analyst.

The BJP might face more problems than the Congress as two of its leaders Kirori Lal Meena and Vishwendra Singh have gone against the party. While Meena, a Meena community leader, is fighting as an independent from two constituencies, Singh, a Jat, has joined Congress and is fighting from Deeg-Kumher constituency.

“These two communities are a dominant force in Rajasthan and if they vote against the BJP then the party might be in a difficulty”, Sharma added. Another community, Gujjar, who voted for the BJP in 2003 elections, seem divided.

Things have become difficult for the pollsters to predict as the delimitation process has changed the demographics of as many as 188 of the 200 Assembly seats.

“In the new set-up it is not easy to say how delimitation will affect the prospects of the candidates. But for the first time in Rajasthan, it seems elections are being held on caste basis”, another political analyst felt. Even the ticket distribution by parties have been done on caste calculations, he said.

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