Rajasthan by-election 2018: February 1, the day when news channels were abuzz with all budget-related headlines, brought a good news for the Congress. The grand old party had a fine electoral beginning for 2018 with a thumping victory in Rajasthan by-elections where two Lok Sabha and one Vidhan Sabha seats were at stake. The victory is significant as it comes in a year when Rajasthan will go to assembly elections. The Congress victory also dents BJP’s absolute stronghold in the state, where it had won all 26 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and enjoys a brute majority of 160 seats in the 200 MLA strong state assembly. But what led Congress to such a big win?
The BJP defeat hints at strong anti-incumbency against Vasundhara Raje government in the state, created apparently due to anger amongst Rajputs, SCs and Muslim. To add to Raje’s woes are her reported bitter terms with Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh.
The Rajputs which form 10 per cent of the state population have been traditional voters of Bharatiya Janata Party. Considered most dominant community in the state, the Rajput community members and some of the top leaders have been registering their protest over what Raje government’s alleged apathy and ignorance towards ‘Rajputana pride’. Mind it! Padmaavat row cannot be said to be the only reason here. The wave of Rajput anger against Raje started in June last year after killing of gangster Anandpal in a controversial encounter. Rajput bodies across the state blocked roads, vandalised public property, demonstrated against police and demanded for a CBI enquiry into what they claimed to be a staged encounter. Months later, the government succumbed and a CBI enquiry was initiated.
In August, another big controversy broke out when the Jaipur’s Raj Mahal Palace was sealed by the state government. Angered by the move, Maharani Padmini Devi of Jaipur’s royal family protested against the government. The Maharani, wife of last titular Maharaja of Jaipur, Brig Sawai Bhawani Singh, took to streets despite the fact that her own daughter Disha Singh is a BJP MLA.
Then came the much-debated controversy over movie Padmaavat. While the government and party leaders were seen siding with Rajputs, Karni Sena, the leading group of protestors slammed BJP for not being able to put a blanket ban on the movie despite having governments at the Centre and State level.
A number of incidents of atrocities on Dalits and Muslims in the state have made national to international headlines. In April 2017, the killing and mob lynching of Pehlu Khan by cow vigilantes in broad daylight sent shockwaves across the state. Not only was he murdered, but his lynching was video recorded by a mob and circulated on social media.
In December, Shambhu Nath Regar, an alleged Hindutva extremist burnt alive a migrant worker called Mohammad Afrazul on the alleged charges of love jehad. The man recorded the video of the incident and uploaded it on social media.
In 2015, dominant Jat community members of Nagaur district’s Dangawas village allegedly mowed down three members of SC community under tractors. Horrified by the incident, hundreds of Dalits from Dangawas and surrounding villages fled for their homes.
While one may contest that Dalits and Muslims are not the traditional voters of BJP anyway, reports say this time the two communities uniquely supported Congress.
Vasundhara Raje has not enjoyed a very good equation with top RSS leaders ever since she came to power in 2014. During Lalit Modi’s immigration row, reports said in 2015 that RSS wanted Raje to step down as Rajasthan chief minister after she accepted to support former’s immigration claim in the UK in a signed affidavit. In the same period of time, Raje faced RSS wrath for a temple demolition drive, under which, 43 temples were ‘re-located’ in the state. Under fire, Raje told the RSS that temples were demolished for growth.
The BJP still holds 24 of 26 Lok Sabha, along with 160 Assembly seats out of 200. Still, losing all three in bypolls point at anger within dominant electorates on the ground. Raje faces the challenge to pacify angered communities, manage intra-organisation conflict and needs to work on building her own image dented by ‘legislators bill’. Certainly, Rajasthan by-polls were not the start BJP wanted for 2018.