Is the triple drubbing in the recent bypolls in Rajasthan a sign of the waning magic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Will it be a single act of electoral defeat? Or is it just the beginning of an end, ahead of the General Election 2019?
Even as Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitely was presenting the annual federal budget packaged with bonanza for rural India, the Congress party handed defeat to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Rajasthan, where by-elections were conducted for two parliamentary seats and one assembly seat. The BJP lost the by-elections—both the Lok Sabha seats in Alwar and Ajmer, and the Mandalgarh assembly seat—to a resurgent Congress.There were more than half a dozen reasons as to why BJP lost in this western State.
Rajput pride hurt: Bypolls were fought in the backdrop of the Padmaavat controversy, which had enraged the Rajput community. The immediate cause of BJP’s debacle is being attributed to the Government’s failure to honour the pride of the Rajputs. They had accused the BJP of not doing enough to stall the release of the movie across the country.
Ajmer has two lakh Rajputs, where Raghu Sharma of the Congress defeated former union minister Sanwarlal’s son, Ramswaroop Lamba, of the BJP by 84,414 votes. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP had won this seat by nearly 1.72 lakh votes. Therefore, its loss of support has been amplified by this result.Similarly, in Alwar, Karan Singh Yadav of the Congress defeated Rajasthan’s Labour Minister Jaswant Singh Yadav, of the BJP, by a huge margin of 196,496 votes. This seat was won by the BJP by nearly 2.84 lakh votes in 2014. The voters of Mandalgarh have elected a Congress legislator for the state assembly.
Commenting on the party’s victory, Sachin Pilot, who is largely seen as the Congress’ chief ministerial face in Rajasthan, observed: “The myth that the BJP was an election-winning machine has been busted”.
Reservation for Gujjars: The Gujjars in the state were unhappy after two bills that were proposed by the government for their reservation were stayed by the High Court.
Impact of note ban, GST: Many voters complained about how the Centre’s decisions of demonetisation and GST implementation robbed them of decent living and adversely affected their business.
Farm distress: Farmers are upset over the BJP government’s failure to act upon its announcement for the agricultural loan waiver of ₹50,000 each. A committee appointed after a 13-day-long agitation in the Shekhawati region, is yet to take a final decision despite its visit to Kerala and other states to study their models.
Lynching of Muslims: Alwar had shot into national limelight last year after the murder of Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from the Nuh district of Haryana, by a group of 200 cow vigilantes affiliated with right-wing Hindutva groups. In December, Mohammad Afrazul was burnt alive in Rajsamand over the allegations of ‘love jihad’; the entire incident was caught on video.
Ajmer has 2.75 lakh Muslim voters, while Alwar has 3.10 lakh Meo Muslims, who seem to have voted against the BJP in these bypolls.
Dalit atrocities: The state had witnessed a rise in atrocities against Dalits, who account for seven per cent of the population. This has become a primary cause for concern. Dalits and Muslims together form a major chunk of the electorate, both in Ajmer and Alwar, who unseated BJP candidates.
Impact of bypolls results: The results are a reflection of just one region in the state. But it is clear indication of the people’s mood across the state. Alwar is adjacent to Haryana and Ajmer is in central Rajasthan, while Mandalgarh is near the Madhya Pradesh border. These constituencies include eight assembly segments each, and the Mandalgarh Assembly seat. Together, they represent 8.5 per cent seats out of the total 200 Assembly seats.
Double anti-incumbency: During the last 25 years, Rajasthan has a history of rejecting incumbent governments every five years. If the results are any indication, the BJP is likely to lose the state. The term of the Rajasthan Assembly ends on 20 January, 2019. Election to the Assembly is expected to be held at the end of this year.
Since 1980, in every Lok Sabha bypoll in the state, the incumbent party has retained the seat.
The results of the bypolls are a clear warning for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP National Party President Amit Shah, considering these were won with significant margins by the Party in Lok Sabha 2014 General Elections. That was when Narendra Modi had led the party to power at the Centre. In fact, in 2014, the BJP had won all the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan. With widespread discontent, whether the BJP can repeat its 2014 stellar performance is the moot question.
Absence of RSS: BJP’s ideological mentor—Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—has maintained a distance from the Raje-led faction of the BJP, since the party came into power in 2013. RSS volunteers were absent during election campaigns and did not mobilise votes for the party in the three constituencies.
Will the CM’s head roll? Can Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who campaigned for these bypolls, escape the responsibility for the poll debacle? The by-elections indicate an anti-incumbency wave against the Raje government. Raje’s relations with the Party’s central leadership will be under close scrutiny as the central leadership may move to put its house here in order. Voices of rebel leaders have become louder. But will Modi-Shah replace Raje, who holds a strong control over the MLAs?
Most political observers seem to agree that the BJP is not in a position to win the upcoming Assembly elections with Raje. At the same time, it is not in a position to win without her either!