Rajasthan has a history of incumbent governments losing power in the next election. The Congress government in Rajasthan led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is trying to buck that trend, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is relying on it to return to power, and simultaneously effect a change of leadership in the State. Both parties have internal issues to manage even as they face off in a likely straight battle for a majority in the 200-strong State Assembly. Polling is on November 25. To Mr. Gehlot’s credit, he has pulled the Congress up from the trench with a blitzkrieg of new welfare schemes and effective public outreach, blunting anti-incumbency and raising the hope of the cadres. Having averted the default defeat, the Congress’s prospects now depend on how well it selects candidates and gets its campaigning right in the last leg. Younger colleague and aspirant for the top post Sachin Pilot has buried the hatchet and thrown his weight behind Mr. Gehlot in this battle. Reporting so far indicates that while there is no anti-incumbency against the Chief Minister, individual Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of the Congress might be coming up against strong headwinds. This is a difficult situation for the party to tackle, and replacing the optimal number of sitting MLAs with fresh faces will be a test of Mr. Gehlot’s storied political skills.
The BJP has been eager to shake off its dependence on former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, an assertive leader who commands her own following that is independent of the party. The central leadership of the party has made it clear that the party will not project a candidate for Chief Minister. Several of her confidantes have been denied ticket already, and more might face the axe. The BJP has fielded seven sitting Members of Parliament among the 41 candidates it has announced, and several of its leaders now nurture ambitions for the top post. Some of them have openly stated that a generational transition in the leadership of the party is underway. The party hopes that this confusion is immaterial in light of the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and could even help it. Ms. Raje will look for ways short of an open rebellion to preserve her political standing in the State and the party. Of the five States that are going to the polls next month, the BJP central leadership has the highest stakes in Rajasthan. The outcome in Rajasthan will have the highest influence on its strategy for the Lok Sabha election in 2024 too.