Rajasthan elections: The weak 'third force' not to be neglected

Can the 'others' in the fray, the smaller parties, skew the state's electoral matrix for the Congress or BJP in any significant way?

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge addresses an election rally in Weir, Rajasthan, on 18 November 2023. The incumbent Congress and the BJP are the two big rivals vying for leadership in the state (photo: INC)
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge addresses an election rally in Weir, Rajasthan, on 18 November 2023. The incumbent Congress and the BJP are the two big rivals vying for leadership in the state (photo: INC)

Prakash Bhandari

Smaller parties in fray in the Rajasthan Assembly elections are categorised as 'Others', and there are as many, with 78 who are contesting this time. The Others include national parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and CPI(M) (Communist Party of India—Marxist), besides Haryana’s Jannayak Janta Party, the Bharatiya Adivasi Party, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (which the Adivasi Party split off from) and the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP).

Of course, the bipolar battle between the ruling Indian National Congress and the BJP has centrestage, and historically, they have passed the baton of power back and forth every five years almost ritually.

However, chief minister Ashok Gehlot has been stressing for the past six months that the ruling Congress intends to change this riwaz (custom) by retaining power this time, for which it is determined to leverage its various successful welfare schemes in its campaigning.

Both the Congress and the BJP have their share of 'rebels' or turncoats to contend with too, of course, but the BJP in particular has 30 of them in a House of 200—and that's a number that could upset the applecart, depending on where they land. (The current elections are being held across 199 seats only, however, because of the death of the Congress candidate, Gurmeet Singh Kooner. in Raisingh Nagar a week ago.)

All of which is to say, these smaller parties—the Others—could potentially still create significant ripples in 68 of the constituencies by splitting the BJP and Congress vote banks.

If these Others and the Independents together manage to win even 30 seats, it could affect the ambitions of both of the bigger fish.

A look at the electoral records of the Others reveals that in the past 60 Assembly elections, they and the Independents touched a maximum of 28 seats—and that was the instance that helped Bhairon Singh Shekhawat form the Janata Party government with the help of the smaller parties and independent candidates. Shekhawat, however much of a stalwart he might have been in the BJP, could never secure a clear majority for the party. It was only Vasundhara Raje in 2003 that led the party to a clear majority with 123 seats. But that he could form a government nonetheless shows the importance of reckoning with the Others and Independents as well.

The Congress too benefitted from the 'third force' in similar ways. The Independents won 14 seats in 1998, 24 seats in 2003, 26 seats in 2008, 16 seats in 2016 and 27 seats in 2018. In 2018, the Congress could not get a clear majority and finished at 99—yet could form the government thanks to the support of the Independents (interestingly, they were mostly former Congress 'rebels').

The Third-Party Players

In the current scenario, a key player is the RLP, led by MP Hanuman Beniwal, was an NDA partner of the BJP's. It won three seats in 2018. But this year, it is not allied with the BJP but instead with Chandra Shekhar’s Azad Samaj Party.

The RLP is a Jat-dominated outfit. It has fielded a total of 81 candidates, but is a force to reckon with mainly in 10 constituencies. It is expected to win at least two or three seats from the Jat community's support alone; but it is opposed by all other communities. Beniwal is contesting from Khinwsar, a seat his brother won last time. It has fielded a total of 81 candidates, but is a force to reckon with mainly in 10 constituencies.

The RLP and the Azad Samaj Party are contesting 124 seats together. The Azad party is new to the state and has no firm voter base yet so is largely riding the RLP coattails.

The Bharatiya Adivasi Party (BAP) is confined to the four districts which account for 19 tribal seats in southern Rajasthan. A splinter group of the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), the BAP is contesting for 27 seats and is likely to pose problems for both the Congress and the BJP in seven of these constituencies. Like the RLP, BAP too is expected to win two to three seats.

The CPI(M) managed to win two seats in 2018 and its candidates are in the fray in 17 constituencies this time, but only strongly placed in four of them—and in those four, is a significant opponent for both the Congress and the BJP.

The BSP got six seats in 2018 to become the largest Opposition outfit. But all six BSP winners later merged with the Congress. This time, it is contesting from 185 constituencies, and observers believe its candidates might turn the tables on the bigger fish in at least five of these.

The JJP are alliance partners of the BJP in Haryana. Om Prakash Chautala’s grandson Dushyant Singh is the deputy chief minister there, and has fielded 20 candidates in Rajasthan. The JJP is only expected to perform well in the Jat-dominated constituencies, particularly Suratgarh and Fatehpur, and thus mainly challenges the RLP's vote bank. However, it could also spring a surprise on the Congress and the BJP in two of the seats.

The AAP has fielded candidates for 86 seats, but Rajasthan is yet to establish itself in Rajastan to establish and lacks clear, cohesive leadership. It is not expected to do any wonders, as the candidates fielded aren't so impressive.

Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party has fielded 10 candidates, but is not expected to have much impact on the Muslim voters, who are likely to still vote for the Congress. If the AIMIM does pull off an upset, it would be the Islamophobic BJP it would hurt most.

Apart from the smaller parties, there are 38 Independents, who are likely to trouble both the Congress and the BJP alike.

The most notable is sitting BJP MLA Chandrabhan Singh Aakya, who was denied a ticket to accommodate another sitting BJP MLA from Jaipur’s Vidyadhara Nagar—Narpat Singh Rajvi, son-in-law of the late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and a Raje loyalist. Aakya then decided to contest as an independent candidate, and may yet turn the tables on Rajvi.

The One to Watch

Overall, the BSP remains the strongest 'Others' party because of the inter-caste equations in the various spaces, and the support of the 'backward' communities (OBCs, ie, other backward classes).

Bhagwan Singh Baba, the state unit president of the BSP, admitted that the party was betrayed by six BSP legislators last time who joined the Congress. However, the party has learnt its lessons from these defections and has fine-tuned its focus on only 60 seats.

“We may not be a force to reckon with as a single party. But if there is a hung assembly, our winners would eventually help the major parties like the Congress and the BJP form government. I foresee a hung Assembly and that is where we would be in demand. But we will not lend support without our conditions. Our campaign would be led by Mayawatiji who would undertake a tour of the state. I would again stress, the BSP would be the third largest party and in case of a hung Assembly, we would be a key factor in government formation” said Baba.

After the BSP, the AAP is the most recognised outfit nationally and regionally. But as we said above, it's yet to make much headway in this state.

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