A political history of Rajasthan: A Congress-BJP revolving door | Explained News


Rajasthan, the largest state by area, has had only three Chief Ministers in the last 33 years and six (not counting one who was in the post for just 15 days) in 50; has produced hung Assemblies but the largest party has always managed a majority; and has never witnessed a government collapse, even though its CMs have been dismissed on three occasions.

It has never been ruled by any party other than the Congress and BJP (Janata was in power when BJP was its part), the periodic emergence of other political parties notwithstanding.

And since 1993, when Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of the BJP returned as Chief Minister, power has always alternated between the Congress and BJP.

Today, Rajasthan has a unicameral legislature of 200 seats, 34 of which are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and 25 for the Scheduled Tribes. It has 25 seats in Lok Sabha (including three reserved for SCs and 4 for STs), and 10 in Rajya Sabha.

Rajasthan Assembly Elections 2023, Rajasthan assembly polls, Rajasthan Congress, Vasundhara Raje, Ashok Gehlot, Indian express explained, explained news, explained articles Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who went on to serve as Vice President, was Chief Minister for more than 10 years. (Express Archive)

A history of close polls…

Assembly elections have frequently produced a small or a near majority for one or the other party. In 1962, the Congress won 88 seats in the 176-member House; amid the anti-Congress wave of 1967, it won 89 seats out of 184.

Festive offer

In 1990, the BJP and V P Singh’s Janata Dal had an alliance — the BJP won 85 seats out of 200, and formed the government with support from the Janata Dal’s 55 MLAs. In 1993, the BJP won 95, and reached close to a majority. In 2008 and 2018, the Congress won 96 and 100 seats respectively in the 200-member Assembly.

But the single largest party has traditionally managed to pull together the required numbers. In 1967, the Congress won 89 out of 194, but Mohan Lal Sukhadia ultimately formed the government; Shekhawat and Ashok Gehlot did the same in 1993 and 2008 respectively.

…And of sweeping wins

The Congress won clear majorities in 1972 (when it swept 145 of 184 seats), 1980 (133 of 200), and 1985 (113 of 200), and the Janata Party in 1977 (152 out of 200 seats). In 1998 the Congress won 153 out of 200.

The BJP’s best show was in 2013 (163 out 200). In 2003 it won 120 out of 200.

Elected governments were dismissed thrice by central governments of the day. In 1977, the Morarji Desai government dismissed Haridev Joshi’s Congress government in Rajasthan, and Shekhawat was sacked twice — by Indira Gandhi in 1980, and P V Narasimha Rao in 1992 after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Rise of BJP in Rajasthan

L K Advani started out as an RSS pracharak in Alwar before being sent to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), which was formed in 1951. Shekhawat was first elected MLA in 1952, and was for long the biggest leader of the BJP in the state. Thanks to Shekhawat, Rajasthan was the only state among the four whose governments were dismissed in 1992, where the BJP returned to power in 1993.

Sundar Singh Bhandari and Satish Agarwal were prominent leaders of the Sangh in the state. Jaswant Singh and Ramdas Agrawal were prominent BJP leaders at the national level.

In 1952, the BJS won only 6 seats, but its influence increased steadily over the next two decades. From the 1990s onward, the BJP strengthened itself rapidly, and reached a peak of 163 seats in 2013. The Congress, which weakened during the same period, was reduced to 21 seats in that election, its lowest tally ever.

Third force, fleeting impact

From time to time, a third political force and influential non-Congress, non-BJP leaders have emerged in the state, only to disappear or be subsumed in one of the two major parties.

C Rajagopalachari’s Swatantra Party won 36 seats in the 176-member Assembly in 1962, and 48 out of 184 in 1967. Until the 1990s, the Janata Dal had several important leaders like Kalyan Singh Kalvi, Devi Singh Bhati, and Rajendra Singh Rathore.

Rathore is now the BJP Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, and Jagdeep Dhankhar, now Vice President of India, moved from the Janata Dal to the Congress and ultimately to the BJP.

In 2018, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had 6 MLAs, all of whom later joined the Congress.

Important Chief Ministers

Elections in the state are straight fights between the Congress and BJP, which have been dominated by Gehlot and Vasundhara Raje respectively, alternating CMs since 1998. Gehlot has been the face of his party in the state, and no rival apart from Sachin Pilot in the last few years has succeeded in weakening him. Vasundhara, who assumed office in 2003 with the blessings of then Vice President Shekhawat and the late Pramod Mahajan, remains the tallest leader of the BJP in the state, even though she has been systematically sidelined over the last five years.

The longest-serving Chief Minister has been Sukhadia of the Congress, who served for more than 16 years and 6 months, followed by Gehlot, who is approaching the end of three full terms in power. Shekhawat and Vasundhara have both served for more than 10 years each. In an earlier era, Haridev Joshi and H L Devpura were CMs for more than 6 years and more than 5 years respectively.

Sukhadia, Gehlot, Shekhawat, and Vasundhara have ruled the state for more than 51 years among themselves.

Caste groups in power

Gehlot is an OBC Mali. Vasundhara was born a Maratha who married into a royal family of Jats, and her daughter-in-law is from the Gujjar community. However, for all practical purposes, every royal in Rajasthan, including Vasundhara, is considered to be a “Rajput”.

Of the state’s 14 CMs since Independence, five have been Brahmins, two Vaishyas (Sukhadia and Devpura), and a Kayastha (Shiv Charan Mathur), a Muslim (Barkatullah Khan), and a Rajput (Shekhawat) each. The state has seen prominent Jat leaders in Nathuram Mirdha, Ram Niwas Mirdha, and Parasram Maderna, but no Jat has ever been CM.

Jagannath Pahadia, who served as CM for a little more than a year in 1980-81, belonged to an SC. He was elevated to the post by Indira at a time when Jagjivan Ram had quit the Congress, and she was looking for an SC leader who could be projected at the national level. Pahadia lost his post after he made a comment on the poetry of Mahadevi Verma that annoyed Indira.

More than 17% of Rajasthan’s population are SCs, according to the 2011 Census. STs are more than 13%, but no ST has been Rajasthan CM yet.


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