Ruling parties usually win bypolls because voters have an incentive in choosing the MP or MLA who belongs to the ruling party. He or she has access to government and can get things done. Which is why the BJP’s 3-0 loss in Rajasthan is an ominous sign for not just Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia but also Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
While the Congress was widely expected to win in Alwar, Ajmer was thought to be a close contest with a slight edge to the BJP. After all, Sachin Pilot lost Ajmer in 2014 by a margin of over 2 lakh votes. He was not contesting this time, giving the perception that he didn’t expect to win. The Congress candidate Raghu Sharma, an ex-MLA, wasn’t exactly a stalwart.
The Congress also faced infighting between the Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot camps. Pilot, the young state Congress president, is vying to displace the popular Congress leader Ashok Gehlot.
The Vasundhara Raje government and virtually her whole cabinet campaigned for days in Ajmer. The Raje government and the BJP did their best to not be seen as anti-Rajput and opposed the release of the film Padmaavat tooth and nail.
Despite these factors, the BJP lost Ajmer by a huge margin. Voters do differentiate between a Lok Sabha and a Vidhan Sabha election; they have the Centre in mind. The BJP also fought Ajmer in the name of Modi. After all, since 2014, the Modi factor has won the BJP one election after another.
While most commentators are focusing on the election’s import for the 2018 Rajasthan Assembly elections, the Ajmer and Alwar results also have serious implications for national politics. Coming on the heels of the BJP’s narrowing victory margin in Gujarat, it is difficult not to see that the 2014 Modi wave is petering out. Issues such as rural distress, farm crisis and unemployment are reflecting in state after state.
While the Congress was expected to do well in Alwar, that too was a seat the BJP had won in 2014: As it did every single seat in Rajasthan. It is the wide margin of 1.44 lakh votes in Alwar that is significant.
If the margins of the Congress victories in Ajmer and Alwar are anything to go by, it seems the Congress is all set to sweep Rajasthan: Though much can change by December.
Even more significant is the Mandalgarh bypoll, where the Congress won despite a rebel candidate who cut over 40,000 votes. The rebel candidate was seen as being close to the Sachin Pilot faction. The Congress still won with over 17,000 votes. Once again, this shows the BJP not only lost but lost by a huge margin despite in-fighting and rebellion within the Congress.
The writing on the wall is clear: The BJP is in trouble, and not just in the December Assembly elections. In 2014, the BJP won every single seat in Gujarat and Rajasthan. In Uttar Pradesh, it won 71 of 80 seats; its ally Apna Dal won another two. In the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha elections last year, the BJP won 312 seats.
But the trend from the Gujarat Assembly elections and the Rajasthan bypolls now suggests that at least rural voters are getting over the Modi wave, and returning to the pre-Modi anti-incumbency pattern of voting. If these trends continue, the Modi-led BJP’s prospects could suffer a serious setback in 2019.
These trends suggest the BJP could shed up to half its seats in states it swept in 2014. Which does not rule out a weakened BJP being forced to lead a coalition government in 2019.
Updated Date: Feb 02, 2018 09:18 AM