The year started well for the Congress, when it won the three bypolls held in January, wresting Alwar and Bhilwara Lok Sabha seats and the Mandalgarh assembly seat from the BJP.
After being reduced to just 21 seats in the last assembly elections, the Congress bounced back in Rajasthan in 2018. This was also the year when the Zika virus struck, the law caught up with actor Salman Khan and godman Asaram Bapu, and a man was beaten to death after being branded a cow smuggler. The year started well for the Congress, when it won the three bypolls held in January, wresting Alwar and Bhilwara Lok Sabha seats and the Mandalgarh assembly seat from the BJP. The Congress built on this over the months even as the Bharatiya Janata Party stepped up its own act. As chief minister, Vasundhara Raje led a ‘Gaurav Yatra’ that crisscrossed the state. When the assembly polls drew nearer, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah launched a series of public meetings. These were matched by rallies by Congress president Rahul Gandhi in some high-pitched electioneering, which ended with his party winning 99 of the 199 seats where polling took place.
A tussle followed within the Congress between veteran Ashok Gehlot and party’s state unit chief Sachin Pilot – first for the chief minister’s post and then over the allocation of portfolios. Gehlot is now CM and retains nine main portfolios, including home and finance. Earlier in the election-year, Raje faced her share of dissent. Senior BJP leader Ghanshyam Tiwari accused her of corruption and misgovernance and wrote several letters to the party’s top leadership. He went on to launch his own ‘Bharat Vahini Party’, but faced a drubbing in the December 7 elections.
Veteran BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s MLA-son Manvendra Singh, who had old scores to settle with Raje, also quit the party and switched over to the Congress just ahead of the elections. But tribal leader Kirori Meena returned to BJP-fold after about a decade and was made a Rajya Sabha MP. Raje’s BJP government courted controversy over a Bill that barred the prosecution of public servants without official sanction. It would have also put curbs on the media on identifying the accused in such cases. Facing protests, her government withdrew the Bill.
In July, cow vigilantism claimed a life in Alwar district. Rakbar Khan (28) was lynched by a group of people who suspected him and a companion of smuggling cows. The police faced flak for allegedly not rushing the badly injured man to hospital, and focusing instead on taking the cows found with him to a cattle shelter. An assistant sub-inspector was suspended and two constables were shunted to police lines for this. Three men were arrested for attacking Rakbar Khan even as BJP MLA Gyan Deo Ahuja appeared to defend the cow vigilantes, arguing that the death should be blamed on the police and not on them. Courts in Jodhpur dealt with a couple of high-profile cases. Bollywood star Salman Khan was sentenced to five years in jail in the 1998 blackbuck poaching case.
The ‘Dabangg” actor spent two days in Jodhpur jail as prisoner number 106 before being released on bail. Actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre and Neelam were acquitted in the case that goes back to the days when they were shooting together in Jodhpur for ‘Hum sath sath hain’. A special SC/ST court in Jodhpur awarded life imprisonment to self-styled godman Asaram Bapu and 20-year sentences to two co-accused for the rape of a teenager at his ashram in 2013. An outbreak of Zika virus in Jaipur rang alarm bells in Delhi. The city reported 144 cases. Teams from the Centre and the National Institute of Virology in Pune camped in the state capital to help contain the virus. There were no deaths.
Prime Minister Modi also travelled to Rajasthan to launch the “commencement of work” on the Barmer oil refinery and petrochemical complex. The Congress cried foul as the foundation stone for the project in 2013 by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. But the BJP government said it had renegotiated the stalled project. For 68-year-old Gajanand Sharma, 2018 could not have been better. He returned home to Jaipur, 36 years after crossing the border by mistake and landing in a Pakistani jail. All this while, his family had no idea about his whereabouts.