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Reversing anti-incumbency theory

Updated: September 28, 2013 5:29 pm

The incumbency or the anti-incumbency factors come during the elections for references. Usually a ruling government facing elections has to face an electorate which is dissatisfied with the performance of the government and seeks a change. In recent years, the theory of anti-incumbency factor has been reversed by Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Assam, Manipur and Tripura, where the sitting or the ruling government came back to power, showing no signs of any anti-incumbency factor or discontent with the government.

While Rajasthan, which has a record that shows the anti-incumbency factor, has played a key role in trouncing a government, the Chief Minister Ashok gehlot has skilfully used the available revenue in an election year to disburse huge sums of money in the name of the poor. Gehlot, who in his first innings as the Chief Minister between the year 1998 and 2003 had to face the wrath of the state government employees for crushing their demands and reducing their retirement age from 60 to 58, is now giving the employees more than what they demanded. In the last elections, the employees were responsible for bringing the BJP to power by jealously voting against the Congress and also helping the BJP in many corrupt ways during the actual poll day.

One has to come and see by visiting the state as to what has been done by the Congress government to ensure that it comes back to power .The freebies are the watchword of the government and the freebies are for all. The non-Congress-ruled states are perplexed at the way Gehlot is disbursing the public money as pension, subsidies, free medicine, free diagnostic tests and in many other ways.

Recently, he announced a 30 per cent fare concession for women travelling on Rajasthan Roadways buses. The government will subsidise the scheme fully, which is estimated to cost the Road Transport department around Rs 100 crore annually. Incidentally, the Roadways is suffering losses worth several hundred crores.

The free medicine scheme costs in the region of Rs 300 crore per year and serves about 200,000 patients every day. Similar schemes have been launched for the livestock also and the scheme is becoming very popular as animal husbandry is a big economy in the state.

But the real hit is the pension scheme. Everyone below the poverty line, the aged, widows, divorced women and disabled people between the ages of 53 and 58 is in the process of getting a pension ranging from Rs 500 to 1000 a month. Just six months back, the Congress was tottering with the surveys giving the BJP 70:30 chances of coming back to power, but as things stand today, it is 50:50.

All this seems to suggest that the past history may be reversed. In Rajasthan, the opposition has always been voted in. This trend might change in the Assembly elections due in December and later the general elections.

This represents a major reversal for Gehlot. Just six months ago, his stock was going down despite all these schemes. Vasundhara Raje, who had managed to get an endorsement from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, seemed to be gaining. But subsequently, the freebies events suggest that Rajasthan is re-evaluating its electoral choices. In the 2008 elections, the Congress could manage just 96 seats, five short of a clear majority in the 200-member Assembly. Gehlot managed to consolidate the Congress party’s hold in the Assembly: six MLAs from the Bahujan Samaj Party merged the unit with the Congress

But Gehlot has a fighting chance of getting the Congress back to power. He must be given full marks for trying, even if at the expense of the exchequer. Looking at the electoral history of the past 35 years, in which elections for eight Vidhan Sabha were held, the electorate showed a leaning for ousting the ruling party at the hustings. The results of the past seven Vidhan Sabha elections prove that the people have been voting against the ruling party for various reasons. The results against the ruling party were because of not only incumbency, but for multiple reasons that include infighting within the ruling party.

In 1977, the Janata Party led by the late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat came with a massive mandate when the Janata Party in a massive post-Emergency anti-Congress wave won 152 seats while the Congress could get only 41. In 1980, when the elections were held for the Vidhan Sabha, the Congress bounced back to power winning 133 seats as compared to the BJP which could win only 32 seats. This was the time when the BJP after splitting with the Janta Party formed the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In 1985, following the assassination of Indira Gandhi and a sympathy wave in favour of the Congress, the Congress won 113 seats while the BJP won 39. In 1990, there was an alliance between the BJP and the now defunct Janata Dal in the state. The BJP and the JD combined rode on the issue of Ram Mandir and the Congress which lacked in leadership gave a lackluster performance and against the BJP and JD combined could win only 50 seats. The BJP and JD combined won 140 seats. This was the time when the BJP-led government came to power because the Muslims opted to vote for the JD rather than the Congress. Later, the JD parted the company with the BJP, yet Shekhawat with all his manipulations was able to save his government’s fall.

In 1993, the BJP on its own for the first time managed to come to power but without any clear majority. The BJP could get 95 seats while the Congress could win 76 seats. Yet, Bhairon Singh could form the government with the support of Independents and Congress rebels. This showed that the incumbency factor suited the BJP.

In 1998, when the BJP-led NDA was in power at the Centre the high inflation caused the defeat of the BJP and the Congress won 153 seats while the BJP was reduced to just 33. This showed that the anti-incumbency factor worked against the government.

Thereafter in 2003 when Gehlot was the Chief Minister he had no clue as to how the government was faring and the party that had the support of three Independents that took its tally from 153 to 156 could win only 56 seats in 2003.The main reason was the employees’ annoyance for which the Congress paid dearly. It was a life time lesson for Gehlot. The BJP with Vasundhara Raje as the Chief minister had won 120 seats.

In 2008 under the leadership of CP Joshi, who was the PCC president, the Congress could win 96 seats still short of majority. But the tragedy was Joshi himself lost the election by a single vote. This turned the fortune for Gehlot and he became the Chief Minister for the second time. It was a minority government. The anti-incumbency factor worked against the BJP.

Now, what has to be seen is whether the anti-incumbency factor would benefit the BJP. Political pundits feel that Gehlot as a smart move made all the freebies available in the last election year knowing it well that the public memory is always short. But the never-before freebies formula may help the Congress.

By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur

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