Messages from the States

Print edition : March 21, 1998
T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

Total seats 25Congress(I) 18BJP 5Congress (Secular) 1Independents 1

THE BJP suffered serious reverses in Rajasthan: it won only five of the 25 seats in the State where it had won 13 seats in 1996. The Congress(I), which had won 11 seats in 1996, increased its tally to 18. Of the two remaining seats, one was won by former Union Home Minister Buta Singh, who contested as an independent in Jalore after he was denied the Congress(I) ticket. And in Jhunjhunu, Sis Ram Ola of the Congress (Secular) retained the seat he had won in 1996.

Only in two rounds of elections in Rajasthan has the Congress(I) fared better than this time: in 1984 it made a clean sweep of all the 25 seats, and in 1957 it won 19 seats.

For the BJP, which has had an edge over the Congress(I) in the State since 1989, the dismal show this time is not only a matter of wounded pride; a good performance here would have made it easier for the alliance led by the party to put together a majority in Parliament. BJP leaders had claimed that their party would win more than 20 seats, but many of its stalwarts were defeated by candidates of the Congress(I), which was not free from dissensions and factionalism.

The BJP appears not to have sensed the anti-establishment sentiment in the State, which was perhaps indicated by the large voter turnout - a State average of 62.14 per cent.

Sonia Gandhi's campaign gave a fillip to the Congress(I), which was hoping to cash in on the anti-incumbency factor. As one State party leader said, she was a rallying point. However, she did not altogether succeed in stemming factionalism in the party, as was evident from the defeat of Girija Vyas in Udaipur, Parasram Meghwal in Jalore and Hari Singh in Sikar.

The BJP retained the Jhalawar, Bayana and Jaipur constituencies, which it had won in 1996. But it lost in 10 other constituencies where it had won in 1996: Kota, Chittorgarh, Bhilwara, Pali, Ganganagar, Bikaner, Ajmer, Bharatpur, Tonk and Nagaur. However, it wrested Sikar and Udaipur from the Congress(I). Among the BJP stalwarts who were defeated was Jaswant Singh who lost in Chittorgarh to Congress(I) MLA Udailal Anjana by a margin of 25,377 votes. Ghuman Mal Lodha, who was elected twice from Pali, lost to Meetha Lal Jain of the Congress(I). In Kota, a BJP stronghold since 1989, Ram Narayan Meena of the Congress(I) defeated BJP State unit president Raghuveer Singh Kaushal by a margin of 17,428 votes.

In the textile town of Bhilwara, another saffron stronghold, Congress(I) MLA Ram Pal Upadhyay defeated the BJP's Subhash Baheriya (who won here in 1996) by a margin of 79,951 votes. The Ganganagar seat went to Shanker Pannu of the Congress(I), who took the seat from Nihal Chand by a margin of 42,761 votes. Another significant and unexpected loss for the BJP was in Ajmer where its three-time MP Rasa Singh Rawat lost to Prabha Thakur, a newcomer to politics. Sonia Gandhi and former Union Minister Rajesh Pilot campaigned for Prabha Thakur. In Bikaner, former Union Minister Balram Jakhar of the Congress(I) won by a margin of 1,90,265 votes - the highest in the State - over Mahendra Bhati of the BJP.

In Bharatpur, former Minister K. Natwar Singh of the Congress(I) defeated Digamber Singh of the BJP by a margin of 68,453 votes. In Tonk (S.C.), where the BJP won in 1996, former MLA Dwarka Bairwa of the Congress(I) defeated Shambhu Dayal Badgujar of the BJP by 57,469 votes.

In Nagaur, the BJP fielded Richpal Mirdha, a nephew of the late Nathu Ram Mirdha, in the hope that the surname would work in the family pocketborough. BJP election banners had pictures of Nathu Ram Mirdha alongside Richpal Mirdha. A BJP campaign manager told Frontline that "Baba's name" would be enough to ensure a BJP victory. But the Congress(I)'s Ram Raghunath Choudhary won here by a margin of over 1.06 lakh votes.

The Congress(I)'s only loss in the Mewar region was in Udaipur, a seat that had been represented by Girija Vyas for two terms. Vyas, perhaps aware that her opponent Shanti Lal Chaplot, Assembly Speaker and MLA from the Rajsamand Assembly segment, would put up a tough fight, campaigned aggressively; Sonia Gandhi too campaigned on her behalf. Yet Vyas lost by a narrow margin of 11,447 votes.

Sikar, a Congress(I) stronghold, witnessed a triangular contest among the Congress(I), the BJP and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). BJP newcomer Subhash Maheriya defeated the Congress(I)'s Hari Singh, who won here in 1996. CPI(M) candidate Amra Ram secured 1,96,432 votes and finished third. Hari Singh's defeat was partly the result of factionalism in the State unit. Most of the MLAs from around Sikar campaigned for Jakhar in Bikaner.

In Jalore, Buta Singh defeated Gena Ram (BJP) by a margin of 1,66,085 votes; the Congress(I)'s Parasram Meghwal, who won here in 1996, finished third.

Among the Congress(I) victors were Rajesh Pilot, who defeated Rohitash Kumar (BJP) in Dausa by a margin of 61,125 votes, and State Congress(I) president Ashok Gehlot, who defeated Jaswant Singh Bishnoi (BJP) by a narrow margin of 5,444 votes. However, former Chief Minister Jagannath Pahadia, the Congress(I) candidate in Bayana (S.C.), could not take the seat from the BJP's Gangaram Koli. The margin of defeat was a mere 4,550 votes. The Congress(I) retained Barmer where Col. Sona Ram defeated Lokendra Singh Kalvi (BJP), son of the late Kalyan Singh Kalvi, by a margin of 85,540 votes. The Congress(I) also retained Salumber (S.T.) and Banswara (S.T.). There are seven reserved constituencies; the Congress(I) retained three, wrested two from the BJP, and lost one (Jalore). The BJP retained one seat (Bayana).

Significantly, most of the heavyweight BJP candidates - barring Speaker Shanti Lal Chaplot - lost. They include former Union Minister Jaswant Singh; Madan Lal Saini, general secretary of the State BJP unit, who lost to Ola of the Congress (Secular) in Jhunjhunu by a margin of 38,172 votes; State unit president Kaushal (Kota); Transport Minister Rohitash Kumar Sharma who lost to Pilot in Dausa; Animal Husbandry Minister Jaswant Singh Bishnoi who lost to Ashok Gehlot in Jodhpur; Rasa Singh Rawat in Ajmer; and Tribal Welfare Minister Nandlal Meena who lost to Bheeru Lal Meena of the Congress(I) in Salumber (S.T.).

The five seats that the BJP won were Jhalawar, where Vasundhara Raje Scindia retained her seat with a comfortable margin of 63,567 votes; Jaipur, where Girdhari Lal Bhargava was elected for the third time, defeating Syed Goodage by a margin of 1,38,971 votes; Sikar, where Subhash Maheriya defeated Hari Singh and Amra Ram in a triangular contest; Bayana (S.C.); and Udaipur. Curiously, the State leadership of the BJP has still not come to terms with the anti-establishment message behind the results. In a television interview, Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat said that the Congress(I)'s politics of casteism was responsible for the BJP's losses.

For the Congress(I), the verdict is a morale booster, particularly because Assembly elections are due by November 1998.

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