The Bharatiya Janata Party leadership in Rajasthan must have been happy that results in three bye-polls in the state came on the same day as the Budget speech, because things do not look good for the saffron outfit. Bye-polls in two Lok Sabha seats and one assembly constituency that had fallen vacant saw Congress winning by huge margins, a sign that does not bode well for the BJP government in a state where assembly elections are slated for later this year.
All three seats, in the Lok Sabha constituencies of Alwar and Ajmer as well as the state assembly seat of Mandalgarh, had fallen vacant following the deaths of their incumbent representatives. All three had been held by the Bharatiya Janata Party. After Thursday’s results, all three will be held by the Congress. And the fight was not close.
The margins, in fact, tell most of the story. In Mandalgarh, the Congress candidate won with nearly 13,000 more votes than their BJP counterpart. In Ajmer, the margin for the victorious Congress candidate was around 84,000 votes with a few still to be counted. And in Alwar, Congress’ Karan Singh Yadav had beaten BJP’s Jaswant Singh Yadav by nearly two lakh votes.
Beyond margins, the swing in vote share is as telling.
The results were not unexpected, but the margins are nevertheless impressive. It has been clear for some time now that there is a significant anti-incumbency against Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. The chief minister never had a very comfortable equation with the BJP’s top leadership, Party President Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and it is said that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is also unhappy with her, and so did not lend their support to the campaign.
Beyond the infighting, recent developments have turned many in the state against Raje and the mood seems to have been reflected in the massive swing towards the Congress candidates in the bye-polls. Elections are due in the state by the end of the year and, because it is a state with a straightforward BJP-Congress battle, Thursday’s results come as an indication that Raje’s government is seriously vulnerable.
Of course, this does not mean that it will be a walk in the park for the Congress. The party has yet to settle its primary leadership question. The state unit and many locals seem to prefer Ashok Gehlot, a former chief minister, but the party leadership is inclined towards the younger Sachin Pilot. For the moment, the two are getting along, but as the election comes closer, the high command will be expected to decide who will be its chief ministerial face, a decision full of pitfalls.
Elsewhere, the BJP might have got some solace from bye-poll results in West Bengal. The saffron outfit, and everyone else, was completely trounced by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, but the BJP did manage to come second in an assembly seat. For years elections in West Bengal have been between the TMC and the Communists, with Congress in third place.
Results in the Noapara assembly seat, where the TMC candidate won with a margin of around 60,000 votes, suggest that the BJP might actually be able to claw its way into the principal opposition space, though it will be dwarfed by Banerjee’s massive popularity. In the Uluberia Lok Sabha seat, as if to prove this point, the TMC had a winning margin of a whopping 4.74 lakh votes.