Campaigning for assembly elections in Rajasthan has entered the last lap. The contest is a close one.
Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have pulled out all stops in this final phase. There is vitriol in the air, and anticipation too, as millions await the final verdict.
It is an apt moment to study the state, in order to understand it.
Rajasthan is broadly divided by geography into two regions: the hills in the east and the north, defined by the Aravalli range, which runs from north east to south west; and the vast Thar desert, which covers much of the west and the north.
It is a lot more diverse demographically, with different communities concentrated in larger numbers in different parts of the state.
These distributions overlap in places, and offer the Congress an opportunity to play divisive identity politics. This is in stark contrast to the BJP’s approach of fostering a supra-caste consolidation, and in many ways, every verdict is an assemblage of such diverse contests.
The Jat community for example, which constitutes roughly 15 per cent of the state, and influences electoral outcomes in around a quarter of the 200 assembly seats, is largely concentrated in the east of the state.
The Jat vote speaks louder here, in the Shekhawati region north of Jaipur, and further to the east, in the districts bordering Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana.
On the other hand, the scheduled caste vote is more concentrated in the north of the state, plus sizeable pockets in the Kota-Bharatpur belt, along the southern flank of the Aravalli range. As per the 2011 census, they constitute approximately 18 per cent of the population.
Now, one would have thought that this distribution, plus the tribal vote, would have made Rajasthan a happy hunting ground for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Yet, the BSP has only ever lingered on the margins of state politics because, as a map below shows, the scheduled tribe population is actually concentrated for the most part in the south of the state.
The Muslim community, which constitutes 9 per cent of the population, is primarily spread across the centre of the state, in a broad belt which runs west from Jaisalmer and Barmer, through Jodhpur, Ajmer and Jaipur, east to the borders of Uttar Pradesh.
It may not be a large community, but it offers the Congress the decisive swing vote in tight elections.
Combining the Dalit, tribal and Muslim votes, we see that much of the state is prone to vote banking and appeasement.
At least 30 per cent of the vote in a district is susceptible to identity politics, and that is a very large segment when we bear in mind, additionally, that a full fifth of the popular vote is not with the Congress or the BJP, but with ‘Others’.
This reduced bipolarity means that a candidate in Rajasthan can, and often does, win with a lower vote share and smaller margins.
However, the big takeaway from our study of Rajasthan demographics is that no one community can successfully project its electoral power across the rest of the state, because it is geographically restricted to sub regions.
If the Jats are concentrated in the east, then the south is dominated by tribals, the north has higher concentrations of Dalits, and the Muslim vote has a louder say across the centre of the state.
This is what makes Rajasthan assembly elections so difficult to predict, and this is also why the popular mandate shifts from one party to another, even if the vote swings are small.
Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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