By-elections in Rajasthan have jolted the BJP beyond expectations and warning bells should be ringing in the party’s headquarters. The beneficiary is the Congress because in that state there is a virtual direct contest, with other parties being of no consequence. That the two Lok Sabha contests — Ajmer and Alwar — and the Assembly seat in Mandalgarh were wrested by the Congress with substantial margins shows the extent of disillusionment with the BJP. That Assembly elections in Rajasthan are due later this year should be enough for BJP to realise that it needs to pull up its socks forthwith to avert a washout in a State where it had won all 25 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress vote share in Alwar and Ajmer increased by 25 per cent and 11 per cent compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. As for the BJP, its share dipped by 20 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. It was broadly the same story in the lone Assembly seat.
Karni Sena chief Lokendra Singh Kalvi, who had led a campaign against the film ‘Padmaavat’ for compromising Rajput pride and valour, attributed the result to the BJP refusing to ban the film. After the censor board and the Supreme Court cleared the film, the Narendra Modi government and its Rajasthan counterpart led by Vasundhara Raje had little option, but that they allowed the issue to simmer for so long was on hindsight a tactically-flawed strategy. Besides, it would be foolhardy to see this as the only reason for the BJP’s defeat. Opposition to the Vasundhara Raje government has been building up for quite some time with various forces arrayed against it. The arrogance of ministers was not the least of the reasons. That caste equations played a big role in BJP’s crushing defeat can hardly be denied.
At the same time, credit needs to be given to Congress leader Sachin Pilot who led a masterly campaign without seeming too shrill and cantankerous. That there was rivalry between him and party veteran and former chief minister Ashok Gehlot did not affect the outcome of the election because there was a virtual wave against the BJP. Sachin Pilot had lost Ajmer in 2014 by a margin of over 2 lakh votes. That he had chosen not to contest this time was attributed to fear that he would not be able to win. A relative lightweight, Raghu Sharma, was put up, but he sailed through comfortably. The Raje government left no stone unturned with most ministers drafted into campaigning. In Alwar, it was a cakewalk for the Congress. It was as though the electorate had made up its mind to punish the BJP. It is not that the tide cannot be turned in the one and a half years that remain before the Assembly polls if they are held as scheduled. But, it is bound to be a herculean task. Evidently, the crushing defeat is a manifestation of disenchantment with the Vasundhara Raje government. It is for Chief Minister Raje and the party bigwigs to decide whether they can risk going to the Assembly elections with Raje at the helm in Rajasthan. A change of leadership could help but any new incumbent should be able to carry the party with him cohesively.