Jaipur: Ram Swaroop Lamba appeared to be the perfect choice. Son of the BJP’s popular Jat leader and sitting Lok Sabha whose death had necessitated the Ajmer by-election, 45-year-old Mr Lamba was expected to ride a sympathy wave and command the powerful Jat vote that makes for 12 per cent of the vote share in the constituency. But the Congress fielded Raghu Sharma, 60.
The Rajputs – many of them angry at what was perceived to be the Vasundhara Raje government’s failure to protect the community pride in the controversial film Padmaavat controversy – sided with the Congress. So did the Brahmin vote. This consolidation against the BJP this time became an unbeatable combination.
But this wasn’t the only wrong call by the BJP.
Around 300 km away, in Alwar, the BJP picked a sitting legislator and state minister Jaswant Yadav hoping to split the Yadav votes by playing its Yadav candidate against the Congress’ Dr Karan Yadav. It was just one of the many calculations that went horribly wrong. A high-pitch campaign by the Congress succeeded in making the minister the face of the anti-incumbency that had been piling up against the Vasundhara Raje government.
Jaswant Yadav attempted to consolidate votes around religion. This was, after all, the ground zero of cow vigilantism, where Pehlu Khan was beaten to death over suspicion that he was smuggling cows. At an election meeting on January 8, the BJP candidate was accused of telling Hindus to vote for the BJP; the Muslims to the Congress. In some ways, he was seen to be following up on the effort to polarize voters by local leaders for some time.
As the results demonstrated, it wasn’t a strategy that worked either.
In Alwar, the Congress candidate Karan Singh Yadav netted nearly six of every ten votes cast, defeating rival Jaswant Yadav by 1.9 lakh votes. The Congress’ lead in Ajmer too was decisive. Dr Raghu Sharma ended up with seven per cent more votes than the BJP; the lead was around 84,000 votes.
The scale of these by-elections was by no means small.
Between the by-elections to the two Lok Sabha seats and the Mandalgarh assembly seat on 29 January, more than 25 lakh people had voted.
What does have the BJP concerned is that its candidates did not win in even a single assembly segment of the two parliamentary constituencies, losing even city votes in Alwar and Ajmer city that have been considered traditional bastions.Rajasthan BJP president Ashok Parnami is quick to suggest that the setback is only momentary. “The lotus will bloom again,” he said, ruling out a change in leadership later this year for the state elections slated to be held this year-end. “
“Did the Congress change their leadership when they lost by-polls (when they were in power),” he said.
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