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Rajasthan bypoll 2018: Sachin Pilot steers Congress into massive wins; may dislodge 'indispensable' Ashok Gehlot

Soon after results of bypolls in Rajasthan's Ajmer Lok Sabha constituency were announced, the victorious Congress candidate Raghu Sharma appeared on a TV news channel where Sachin Pilot was being interviewed and fell at his feet. Then, when the interviewer turned to Sharma, the Congress candidate bent his back again to touch Pilot's feet on live TV.

Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot and Congress candidate Raghu Sharma flash victory sign after latter's victory in Ajmer By-poll election, in Ajmer on Thursday. PTI

Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot and Congress candidate Raghu Sharma flash victory sign after latter's victory in Ajmer By-poll election, in Ajmer on Thursday. PTI

This act of seeking Pilot's aashirwaad sums up what the Congress has achieved through its 3-0 win in the elections to Alwar, Ajmer and Mandalgarh on Wednesday. It has finally sealed the leadership question in Rajasthan.

For months, voters in Rajasthan had been talking about a huge anti-incumbency wave against the incumbent BJP government. This was backed by solid evidence on Wednesday when the BJP lost the by-polls to Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha seats and Mandalgarh Assembly seat. The drubbing is significant for several reasons.

One, the margin of loss was huge -- nearly two lakh in Alwar, 90,000 in Ajmer and 13,000 in Mandalgarh. Had a Congress rebel in Mandalgarh not polled more than 30,000 votes, the BJP would have lost by an even bigger margin in the Assembly constituency.

Two, the bypolls covered 40 lakh voters in 17 Assembly segments. These Assembly segments were rural, semi-rural and urban. Some of them like Ajmer (north) were BJP bastions. The BJP trailed in each of these segments with huge margins. This 17-0 lead to the Congress across demographic and geographic divides looks ominous ahead of Assembly elections scheduled for November 2018.

Three, the BJP had stretched its every sinew in the election. It had launched its campaign by inviting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to inaugurate the Barmer refinery project, which, incidentally, had been already inaugurated by the previous Congress government. At the re-inauguration, Modi had reached out to Rajasthan's voters with promises of more jobs and better days. He had also tried to strike an emotional chord with the Rajputs by invoking the names of their heroes. During the campaign, the entire Rajasthan cabinet camped in the three constituencies. The chief minister herself made many trips and concluded the campaign with road shows. But, all the chief minister's horses and all her men could not save the BJP from a precipitous fall.

Four, the BJP tried everything from Hindutva to sympathy. In Alwar, where cow vigilantes vitiated the atmosphere by frequently attacking the local Meos, the BJP maintained an uncomfortable silence. During the campaign, its candidate Jaswant Yadav argued that Hindus should vote for him and those who are Muslim should support the Congress. In Ajmer, the BJP chose Ramswaroop Lamba, son of former minister Sanwarlal Jat whose death had led to the by-election. But, nothing worked.

In December 2013, the BJP had swept the Assembly polls, reducing the Congress to just 21 seats in the 200-member Vidhan Sabha. In May 2014, it had won the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Four years later, the voter appears to be in a mood to root the BJP out.

It is for the party to figure out the root cause of the problem and an appropriate solution before the big battle in November this year. Since it has lost in both Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies, it is difficult to say if the verdict against the Centre or the state government. Since 2014, the BJP has lost six by-polls out of eight and has suffered huge losses in elections to panchayats and municipalities. So, it is clear there is huge resentment among voters at every level. The BJP will have to soon decide if the current leadership is capable of taking on a resurgent Congress or, like in Gujarat, drastic measures are required.

That brings us back to Raghu Sharma and Pilot's aashirwaad to him, and the significance of this public feet-touching. Let us deconstruct.

Sharma is a Congress veteran. He was perhaps active in Rajasthan's politics while Sachin Pilot was pursuing a management degree at Wharton. For years, Sharma was known as former chief minister Ashok Gehlot's trusted lieutenant. That he has dumped his former mentor and become Pilot's follower could be a metaphor for the Congress.

Now that the Congress has beaten the BJP under Pilot's leadership, it should end the hush-hush campaign run by a section of the Congress that the party can't take on Vasundhara Raje without Gehlot. It is obvious that Pilot has the ability to lead the Congress and Gehlot isn't what his followers claim him to be -- indispensable. It now looks certain the Congress will pass on the baton to Pilot and, in case it is required, deal with Gehlot's ambitions with an iron fist.

One month is a long time in politics. Around the time dates for these by-polls were announced, the question on everybody's mind was who would lead the Congress against Vasundhara Raje. The 3-0 win has ensured that the BJP will now have to deal with this tricky question.

The Congress, like Sharma, appears ready to fall at Pilot's feet.


Published Date: Feb 02, 2018 17:12 PM | Updated Date: Feb 02, 2018 17:12 PM

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