Rajasthan’s bellwether seats and why 1 of them is making Gehlot, for once, happy to have Pilot by his side

According to Election Commission (EC) data perused by ThePrint, 19 seats in the 200-member assembly have voted alternatively for the Congress and BJP since 1998 – in line with government formation in the state. This would suggest that the party which wins these 19 seats would go on to form government in the state.

For each of these bellwether seats — those which are indicative of the poll outcome — ThePrint then looked up EC data to see since when their results have been aligned with the over-all state outcome.

Tonk, for example, can be said to have been a bellwether seat since 1985. And in the past four elections, it has voted alternately between the Congress and the BJP, reflective of the assembly outcome.

In 2018, Pilot won Tonk and the Congress formed the government in the state. In 2013, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Ajit Singh Mehta had won the seat and his party had formed the government.

In 2008, Congress’ Zakia Imam won from Tonk and the party returned to power.

In 2003, BJP’s Mahaveer Prasad won the seat and the party dislodged Congress from power.

The previous four elections also saw a similar trend in this Muslim-Gujjar dominated constituency, who constitute 34 percent of voters here according to media reports. Another 17 percent of the population comprises Scheduled Caste-Scheduled Tribes communities.

The state itself has a 25-year history of not re-electing a party to power. The Bhairon Singh Shekhawat-led BJP government, which had managed to get re-elected in 1993, was the last one to have managed the feat.

While Congress’ Ashok Gehlot became the Chief Minister in 1998, 2008 and 2018, BJP’s Vasundhara Raje became the CM in 2003 and 2013, serving alternate terms.

Addressing a public meeting in Rajasthan earlier this month, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while attacking the Gehlot government on issues such as alleged corruption, had also claimed that the BJP would win the upcoming state elections with a record margin.

The Congress meanwhile appears confident of being able to buck the 25-year-old anti-incumbency trend.

Speaking after a strategy meeting in Delhi this month, the Congress’s party general secretary, organisation, K.C. Venugopal, told the media that everyone in the party was “very sure that the Congress party will win in Rajasthan”. While Venugopal admitted, “every party faces anti-incumbency, our party may also be facing some anti-incumbency”, he added, “We have to win Rajasthan, and we can win”.

According to state-based political analyst O.P. Saini, the Gehlot government may be successful in changing Rajasthan’s 25-year anti-incumbency trend, as the Congress is aware of the BJP’s strategies, including caste divide and “soft Hindutva”, and “seem to be better prepared” to face it.

Saini also explains that for most of the 1970s and 1980s, national issues such as the Emergency, and Indira Gandhi’s assassination dominated the local elections. But this is no longer the case.

There is no clarity, however, whether Gehlot will manage to return to the CM’s seat, even if the Congress does make a return to power in Rajasthan.

After the Gehlot-Pilot truce, Venugopal said at a press conference in New Delhi that the Congress never announces a CM candidate ahead of elections. This queers the pitch for Gehlot who might find Pilot as his main rival in the race to the CM’s post.

Also read: ‘Disappointing but not unexpected,’ says Congress on HC upholding Rahul’s conviction in defamation case

Rajasthan’s ‘first’ bellwether seat

The reputation of being Rajasthan’s oldest existing bellwether seat, according to ThePrint’s analysis of EC data, could be claimed by Mandal. The seat has managed to hold on to that honour since 1962, according to EC data scanned by ThePrint.

The state’s revenue minister Ramlal Jat currently holds the seat in Bhilwara district.

In 2008, Jat won the seat and the Congress came to power. Jat moved to the Asind constituency in 2013, but could not win. The BJP meanwhile won Mandal that year and came to power in the state.

In 2018, Jat returned to Mandal and went on to become a minister in the Congress government formed that year.

Speaking to ThePrint, Jorawar Singh Ranawat, assistant professor, department of political science & public administration at Bhilwara’s Sangam University said, “In Bhilwara’s overall politics, the Brahmin community dominates, but in a few parts, such as the Mandal seat, the Jat and Gujjar communities dominate. The Rajput community also wields control. Most MLAs (in Mandal) have been from these communities.”

On its part, the BJP has relied on only one candidate from Mandal since 1985. One of the most prominent Gujjar leaders from BJP in the state, Kalu Lal Gurjar, is a four-time MLA from the seat.

According to Ranawat, the BJP leader doesn’t depend on the party for votes.

EC data shows, every time the BJP won (from Mandal) in the past over three decades, Gurjar was the candidate. He has served as a minister under Bhairo Singh Shekhawat between 1990-92 and was the chief whip when the party formed government between 2013 and 2018.

19 seats vote alike

Over the decades, there have been some seats which have shown bellwether potential for a few elections, but couldn’t hold on to that tag. According to EC data, there are 17 seats in Rajasthan at present, in addition to Tonk and Mandal, which can be tagged as bellwether seats, and have been so at least since 1998.

All these seats have voted alternatively for the Congress and the BJP from that year.

These seats include Kekri, Deedwana, Jayal, Niwai, Kherwara, Sawai Madhopur, Pipalda, Osian, Kaman, Kishanganj, Banswara, Sujangarh, Begun, Chohtan, Sheo, Sikar, and Sri Madhopur.

A few of them have been bellwether even before 1998, according to EC data seen by ThePrint.

Sujangarh in Churu district, for example, has been a bellwether seat since 1993, while  Begun in Chittorgarh district has been one since 1972.

Kekri, currently held by Congress MLA Raghu Sharma, has also never re-elected a sitting MLA since 1962. The only exception was 1993, when Shambhu Dayal won a second consecutive tenure from the seat on a BJP ticket. Dayal had previously won the seat on Janata Dal ticket.

(Edited by Smriti Sinha)

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