In a major setback to the BJP, the Congress party has registered an impressive victory in three by-elections in Rajasthan, where state assembly elections are due in a few months. The by-polls had been necessitated by the death of BJP MPs Mahant Chand Nath and Sanwar Lal Jat from Alwar and Ajmer Lok Sabha constituencies and party legislator Kirti Kumari from Mandalgarh assembly constituency. In Alwar, where BJP had won by 2.84 lakh votes in 2014, the pendulum has swung the other way with Congress winning by a margin of 1.95 lakh votes; in Ajmer, the BJP's 2014 victory margin of 1.8 lakh has turned into a loss by over 84,000 votes. The BJP lost to the Congress in each of the 16 assembly constituencies that comprised the two parliamentary seats in a reflection of the popular sentiment across the state against the Vasundhara Raje government. Rural distress is one of the main causes of the people's disenchantment with BJP. Rajasthan farmers have been on the boil, leading to a revival of the fading All-India Kisan Sabha, and a mammoth rally in Jaipur some months ago had forced the government to concede a farm loan waiver. Even the rising communal polarisation doesn't seem to have worked for the BJP in Rajasthan.
There is little time for the BJP to take corrective action in the state, which heads to the polls later this year. Hairsplitting over whether the defeat is due to anti-incumbency against the central government or state government will only sow more divisions in the party. The Congress, meanwhile, has rebuilt its organisation and its state leaders like Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot enjoy greater credibility among cadre and masses. Talk of a rift between the two did not hurt the Congress in the polls. After the Congress' good show in the Gujarat elections in December, under Gehlot's supervision, the senior leader may be amenable to moving to the national stage if called upon, leaving Rajasthan a clear field for Pilot to lead in the assembly elections.
If the outcome of the Gujarat polls, where the Congress restricted the BJP to under 100 seats, far below the 150 the saffron party claimed it would win, was a mere cautionary tale, the results of the Rajasthan by-elections seem like an urgent danger signal on the road ahead. Coming close on the heels of the Madhya Pradesh civic polls in January, in which the BJP lost more than half the seats it had held, these are unmistakable indications that the tide could be turning against the BJP in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, where it has begun to consider itself invincible.